About Angela Kay Larson

Marketing executive, business coach, political junkie, turkey hunter, vegetable gardener, and farm wife.

Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!

We pulled it off! A trifecta of beauty at last Saturday’s wedding on the Larson farm: The bride was beautiful, the weather was beautiful, and the grounds were beautiful!

I can only take credit for the latter and even so, I need to share the credit with the friends who helped with the last-minute grading and mowing.

Add in some trimming, edging, weeding, and watering and we created a beautiful backdrop for the bride and groom… and their host, Bob the Dog.

The chicken coop turned alter was particularly befitting for Emily and Tommy’s wedding since Tommy is the one who renovated it from its dilapidated condition several years ago. Add in a whole lot of love and the ceremony came off without a hitch (or, I guess, “with a hitch” in the case of a wedding) and the bride and groom couldn’t have been happier, nor the bride more beautiful!

It is truly an honor to host the “once in a lifetime day” of those you love. We are blessed with a beautiful farm and beautiful friends and family… beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

AKL

Wedding week kicks off!

The final week of preparation for the farm wedding kicked-off on Friday evening with a crew of family and friends packing burlap, tulle fabric, grapevine and twinkle lights galore! Of course, before any of the shed decor could go up, tractors, planters, and rotary cutters had to go out, followed by moving racks of parts, tools, and all the other supplies that make a farm shop efficient and a wedding venue unsightly.

We all agreed that hosting a wedding every two years is a great way to get your shop cleaned!

While most of the crew focused on the building, a few of us took to the grounds and kept the Woods FZ25D zero-turn mower humming and the Oregon trimmer/edger buzzing most of the weekend. And, the grading scraper made quick work of repairing the lane, which had washed from the deluge Thursday night.

I have a reputation for wanting the place to look “just so” and am blessed with friends who not only tolerate my “slightly obsessive attention to detail” but also appreciate a well-kept farmstead. Even better, they know how to use our tractors and tools to get the job done. Of course, sometimes the work is more delicate (like planting petunias), requiring only a willingness to dig in the dirt and an occasional break to pose with Bob the Dog.

Jess and Bob in Petunias

We accomplished more than we had hoped Friday and Saturday and by early Sunday afternoon, we called it quits until the final preparations on Thursday. While getting the shed and grounds ready to welcome 300 guests is an enormous amount of work, it is oh so much easier, with a posse of friends and knowing that at the end of a hard days’ work is a good meal, cold beer, and a lot of laughs.

AKL

Here comes the bride… with a rake!

For the second time, we are hosting a wedding on our farm. Sharing our place with friends who are tying the knot is an honor… and a lot of hard work…. but mostly an honor! To share the load, we let the bride and the family worry about the ceremony and reception details while we focus on getting the farm in “showplace condition.”

When we hosted the wedding of Dan and Sarah Clark in 2014, we had all summer to prepare since the nuptials were in September. That year, in early spring, I hired our friend Kelsey to help with cleaning up from winter, building new flower beds, planting perennials, and mulching trees. Kelsey supervised the planting of new trees, experimented with landscape design, and entertained Bob the Dog with endless games of fetch (yes, playing with Bob is an approved work time activity).

By the end of September, our farm was ready for guests!

Now we’re getting ready for another wedding: Dan’s brother Tommy and his bride, Emily. The same planning crew is well on their way in creating details and decor for the June event. And this time, with fewer months to prepare, we called in the bride and group and a troop of family and friends to help with grounds maintenance. After a day of raking, shoveling, burning, grinding, sowing, sweeping, mowing, and more, we all relaxed with a few cold ones, a prime rib dinner, and that gratifying “sense of a job well done.”

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We’re now a month out from the June wedding and plans, preparations and pre-parties are in full-swing. Time is running out for getting the farm in “showplace condition.” I may need to call the butcher to cut another prime rib and the bride to bring over her rake.

The Beginning of the End of Another Illinois Turkey Season

In the turkey blind - that's a decoy!

In the turkey blind – that’s a decoy!

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The ones that got away.

This is the last week of Spring Turkey Hunting Season in Illinois. As a landowner, I have the privilege of hunting all five seasons — an entire five weeks to bundle up in camouflage, sit in the pre-dawn woods, and wait for toms to appear. Actually, in all my years of hunting, I’ve never needed five weeks, I’ve barely needed more than an hour.

 

Since “restocking” wild turkeys throughout Illinois (an initiative that spanned from the 1970’s to 2003), the critters have been abundant on our farms. Because they are so abundant, a successful hunt is simply a matter of scouting in the evening and then the next morning, following a modified version of advice from hockey’s Wayne Gretzky: “skate to where the puck is going to be.” Yep, it’s that easy, “hunt where the bird is going to be.”

Using this advice, again this year, I brought down a 23.4 lb tom and had two beautiful packages of turkey breasts in the freezer in time to make an 8:00am appointment in town. And thus ends another season of spring turkey hunting.

Only Seven Weekends?

Yesterday, I passed a business whose outdoor sign read, “Only seven shopping weekends before Christmas,” and all I could think is, “But I’m not done with summer!” And yet, the leaves are on the ground, the garden is dormant, and we’re approaching the end of harvest.

The lightning speed at which winter is hurling toward us seems compounded by the late spring and a crazily busy summer — on both the home and the work fronts.

On the farm, my summer days were filled with landscaping projects and wedding plans as we prepared to host the celebration of one of “our neighbor kids” (what an honor!). Along with a million other tasks, thanks to a Woods BrushBull and Mow’n Machine, we transformed a pasture into a manicured parking lot with a 200+ car capacity.

As for work, this summer marked the launches of our relationship with Massey Ferguson and our expansion into Brazil. For a marketer, these are monumental projects, wrought with excitement for the opportunities ahead — and achievable only with the talent of a strong team!

It’s no wonder that summer seems to have slipped by and dragged autumn right along with it. Now the farm is fully focused on getting the crops in (hopefully before Thanksgiving) and my work focus has turned toward 2015 planning, first quarter tradeshows, and a myriad of deadlines that all seem to align around 3/31/15.

Somewhere between now and then, I’ll need to take advantage of one of those “seven shopping weekends” to ensure Christmas doesn’t slip by.

Farewell, Mervel

This week we will say a final “good-bye” to Mervel Wood, the last surviving founder of Wood Brothers Manufacturing Co. Mervel passed away on Wednesday, June 16, signaling the end of an era at Woods Equipment. What remains is a lasting legacy of hard work, ingenuity, and a commitment to people — an approach to business that Mervel and his brothers instilled when they founded the company in 1946.

I had a chance to visit with Mervel on several occasions. The first was in 2005 when we invited him and his wife Ruth to Oregon, Illinois, to celebrate the manufacturing of our one millionth product. To honor Mervel for his role in this accomplishment — and because he was 85 at the time and I had no idea of his driving ability — I arranged to have a limousine pick them up at their house in Rockford and drive them to Oregon.

Mervel Wood and his wife Ruth shared their first ride in a limousine when visiting Woods Equipment to celebrate the manufacturing of the company's one millionth product in 2005.

Mervel Wood and his wife Ruth shared their first ride in a limousine when visiting Woods Equipment to celebrate the manufacturing of the company’s one millionth product in 2005.

When I called to share the details with Mervel, he was quite tickled, “I’ve never ridden in a limo before!” he told me. I too was tickled to be part of that small “first” in his life.

The next time Mervel visited the plant was for a family gathering, which we hosted for them, June 7, 2013. I was off to New York to enjoy a weekend of theatre with my mother (which turned out to be our last trip together), so I missed the joy of seeing the Wood family experience first-hand the legacy started by Mervel, Keith and Leonard.

Mervel and Sons in Plant 2013

Mervel (seated) and his sons Doug and Jim during the family visit to Woods in 2013.

I did, however, get to meet many members of the brothers’ families when the three were inducted into the AEM Hall of Fame in November 2012. A dozen members of the family joined Jerry Johnson, our president, and me in Los Angeles, California, for the Association’s gala induction celebration. It was a thrill for Jerry and I to hear stories of their first jobs in the manufacturing plant  (who knew a grease gun could shoot all the way to the ceiling) and their memories of Keith and Leonard whom we had never met.

My most memorable time with Mervel was the afternoon I shared with Chad Elmore and Michael Ellis in Mervel and Ruth’s living room. Michael and Chad were both with Lessiter Publishing at the time and had happily agreed to conduct a video interview with Mervel. We spent hours listening to him talk about the start-up of the company, its growth through the 1960’s and 70’s, and the eventual acquisition by Hesston Corporation in 1969.

My favorite story from Mervel was about the transition from belt to gearbox driven spindles on the rotary cutters. Their father, also an inventor, had sent them the idea to use gearboxes instead of belts, along with a drawing for a gearbox design. Being independent-minded (or perhaps stubborn, as admitted by Mervel), the brothers decided to design their own gearbox. The project was a success and sales picked up. In fact, they started receiving orders for just gearboxes, 25 at a time, from a company “down south.” After filling a few of these orders, they decided to learn more about where they were coming from and discovered that their new customer was the manufacturer of a competitive brand of red rotary cutters — proof that the agricultural equipment industry has always been a tight-knit group.

While I am saddened by Mervel’s passing, I am ever grateful for having spent time with him and his family. It is an honor to have known him and to be a part of his enduring legacy as an employee of Woods Equipment.

AKL

Katie’s first mow

Our niece Katie and her husband Andy recently returned to the family farm. Katie is trading her city girl roots for Andy’s deep roots as the fifth generation of our family farm. Today she’s learning how to operate a tractor and rotary cutter to get the weeds under control at their place, Ten Men Farm. She’s getting her “I can mow!” farm girl badge today!

Angela Kay Larson
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Photo shoots — why I love my job!

While my weeks are mostly filled with meetings, spreadsheets and endless email streams, a few times a year I get out of the office and into the field. This is one of those weeks. A team of creatives, engineers, product managers, and other assorted talent gathered at our farm yesterday to capture video and photography of the new Woods rear blades and landscape rakes.

As a marketer, I spend more time in a seat behind a desk than in the seat of a tractor, but photo shoots change all that. What’s better than promoting a new product? Actually putting that new product in the dirt!

Planning the Next Video Shot

Planning the Next Video Shot

In the past two days, we’ve bladed dirt over a trench where the septic line settled, cleaned up edges along the gravel lane, and mowed a waterway with the new Woods RC-Series Cutter (when you’ve got a crew available, might as well capture as much footage as you can!).

Both the blade and the rake are amazingly versatile, but we found more uses for the rake than I had originally imagined. We also cleared gravel from the grass (remnants from this winter’s snow plowing), smoothed small gullies in the sandy soil along the slope behind the new shed, and gathered rocks and sticks that had collected on a particularly messy part of the lane.

The nature of photo shoots is that you start a lot of projects, but don’t really finish them since you need to move to the next set-up for another shot. When the crew is done, I’m hoping to hang on to the blade and rake through the weekend to finish what we started. Afterall, the weatherman is predicting sunshine for  Saturday and Sunday and weekends typically offer more tractor time than desk time.

AKL

Locally produced, locally consumed

My sister Maureen and I are exploring New England, one local food at a time.

Our first stop after landing in Vermont was a Richmond diner for spinach salads tossed with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette. We then moved on to Woodstock and Vermont Cheddar (my sister’s new-found love) from Sugarbush Farm. We paired it with an Argentinian Malbec because, according to the man in the pink polo at Mac’s Grocery, “Best to stay with what you love.”

Before we headed east to Portland, we stopped for lunch at Simon Pearce in the village of Quechee for their reknowned Vermont Cheddar Soup and fresh-baked Brown Bread and Cheddar Scones.

Our first stop in Maine: the Maine Diner in Wells (as seen on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) where we indulged in Lobster Mac and Cheese and a Codfish Cake. Next door at the Maine Diner Gift Shop, we snagged a bag of chocolate covered Wild Maine Blueberries.

Last night at Ri Ra Irish Pub (every stop isn’t local), we devoured a bowl of fresh-caught mussels, paired with Magner’s Pear Cider.

This morning, we’re sipping coffee at The Holy Donut in Portland and relishing a couple Maine Potato Donuts: Chocolate with Sea Salt and Triple Berry. Maureen now refers to this shop as Mecca. We’ll be back.

Tomorrow, we begin our drive up the Maine coast toward Bar Harbor in search of more seafood, cheese, and berries.

AKL

Gauging the year ahead

Yesterday morning, my friend Deb wrote on her Facebook page, “And so it begins. Tulips, green grass, budding trees, and the rain gauge! All my farmer-wife friends will know what I’m talking about. We live or die by the rain gauge from now until harvest.”

Deb’s wisdom is something I’ve grown to accept, but had never really articulated. That small plastic tube that sits on the garden fence post affects our moods, determines our course for the day, and gives us conversation starters. “How much rain did you get?” is perhaps the most often asked question this time of year.

This morning, as I hung rugs on the clothesline and washed the outdoor furniture, my thoughts too turned to signs of spring. Unfortunately, the best sign of all — tractors pulling planters through the fields — has yet to be seen. Normally, we would have started by now, but the rain gauge has dictated otherwise.

We’re expecting more rain tomorrow and through most of next week. That little plastic tube will be busy filling up, but sadly the farmers will not be busy planting.

AKL