Celebrating First Responders in Ag with Katie Winstead Reuwer

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Show Notes

Summary

In this episode, we hear from a poultry farmer who doubles as a nurse and nursing teacher to support her passions and give back to her local community. Katie Winstead Reuwer grew up watching her family serve as nurses and farmers, and therefore knew she wanted to go after those same goals herself. We dive into First Responders Day and how COVID-19 has impacted both of her careers!

Links:

4-H (Queen Anne’s County) – Fair
Pony Express 4-H Club - Facebook
Chesapeake College
AgBiz Masters

 

Visit mafc.com/loans/farm-loans/poultry to get started on your poultry dream today.

 

Transcript

Katie Ward:

Welcome back to the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast. I'm your host, Katie Ward, Marketing Specialists here at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. The past seven months have been difficult for our country. And I think everyone can agree when I say that we are very grateful for our first responders, those on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic who have been sacrificing themselves to keep us all safe. Living in rural America allows many men and women to have farming as a second career or a part time job. And a lot of our farmers in the mid-Atlantic region are also first responders serving their communities. I'm so happy to speak with our dual career woman today on our podcast, who works as both a first responder teacher at a college and a poultry grower on her farm. Katie Winstead Reuwer serves her community teaching nursing at Chesapeake College after 12 years as a nurse.  And she also serves consumers as an owner and operator of a poultry farm, where she tends to her four chicken houses twice a day, every day, Katie grew up on a small farm and helped her family with their birds. So she always knew she would love to have chickens of her own one day. And she also grew up seeing the passion of her family members who were nurses, and she knew she always wanted a career in that field as well. Now her dreams have come true and she works as both a nursing teacher and a poultry operator. I'm delighted to have Katie talk with us today about her path to both careers.

All right. So without any further ado, welcome to the podcast, Katie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Thank you for having me.

Katie Ward:

So in order for us all, to get to know you, I'm going to start by just asking the cliché question, what came first for you, the chicken or the egg, but in this instance it is farming or nursing?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

That's kind of complicated because I grew up on a farm and my parents had a poultry farm. So I grew up on a farm. And so I guess you could say farming came first in that aspect. And we live next to a dairy farm where we spent a lot of time as well. I always loved the farm life growing up, but then when I graduated high school, you know, I needed a career. I always wanted to farm of my own, but is not very easy to just come out and purchase a farm.  So I knew I had to have a career in nursing. So then along came nursing and then after I'd been a nurse for 10 years, I had the opportunity to purchase my own farm, put up my own poultry houses, which was amazing. So it was kind of farming and then nursing career for a while and now back to farming and nursing together.

Katie Ward:

Oh wow. That's, that's such a great transition. Um, so can you take it, take us back to where it all started for you in the poultry industry.

What made you choose to build four poultry houses?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, I think it was going back to my earliest memories of a child when I spent time in the chicken house with my parents and my older sisters. I was really too I'm, don't work per se, but I spent a lot of time in there with them, my sisters work and I always enjoyed it and I was always kind of sad when they shut the operation down. So I think that's why I went that route just because that's kind of where my roots were, so to speak. With the cash flow opposition, it's a quicker turnaround from a cash flow standpoint than some of the other types of farming.

Katie Ward:

So what is your favorite part of being a farmer?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I have to say without a doubt, it is raising my children on the farm. My husband and I have four children. Our oldest is 12 and then we have a 10 year old, and they’re both girls. And then we have a seven year old and a two and a half year old, both of them are boys. Raising them on a farm is so special to me because I had that as a child. You know, we had a format, but we also live next to the farms. So we had the best of both worlds, the experiences there, and just to see them with the animals and the work ethic and seeing them do their chores and they love to be outside. You know, they're not attached to a screen. They, it's just amazing. I I'd have to say that's hands down. My favorite part of being a farmer is it really is a family farm and it's a family affair. We do a lot of things together as a family. You know, when, there's work to be done, we do it all together, all six of us. So having those experiences are just they're priceless. Really.

Katie Ward:

I know we spoke a little bit before we started recording the episode. And you mentioned that they have some 4-H projects on the farm too.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

They do. They do. So both of my girls have a pony of their own and we actually have three ponies and a mini. They each have one pony of their own. And then we have another pony who my son rides frequently, but he really wants to get a cow. He has been begging me and begging me for a cow. That's what he wants is his 4-H project. But he rides with them just for fun, but they ride in they're in Pony Express. We also do some lessons here and there on they're also on the IAA team. So it's like 4-H and they really have gotten into the equine realm. And my oldest son, he's seven, he rides with them for fun, but he really wants to get a cow for his four 4-H. And we're like chomping at the bit for, for each cause, you know, with COVID we haven't been able to be at the 4-H meetings or anything like that.  So we've missed a lot of that. They did get the opportunity to go and show at the Queen Anne’s County Fair, which wasn't really the fair this year, but they did a youth show. So they did one day in English and one day of Western writing. So we did have the opportunity. So, but it's great that they can, you know, have their ponies here. They're literally in the front yard. So every day, you know, even now that they're doing virtual learning, they walk out on their breaks and they pet their ponies and they brush their ponies and just nice to have them take that responsibility and see the connection between them and their animals.

Katie Ward:

What would you say is the biggest challenge you face as a poultry grower, COVID aside, just in general?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I would say the changes in the industry and the market, the market demands are so different. So you just hope that you can continue without making too many monetary changes to the chicken houses because as the, as the market demands change, they want different stipulations for growing. There are also a lot of regulations that come on the books every year that we have to worry about. Some of which could be costly, uh, to, you know, the average family farmer like me. So I think those changes that the state has had in the past several years have been a challenge. We're very compliant and we do everything that they want us to do. So I'm just hoping that it remains sustainable financially and otherwise, for us to continue to grow.  

Katie Ward:

I can definitely see how that would be a challenge. And I know that you've been working through everything very well and have been pretty successful since building the poultry houses in 2016.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

It's been great. I mean, really overall there's, there's good flux and bad flux, I guess I should say. But overall, when you look at it, when you take a step back and look at it, we're very fortunate. We are very fortunate.

Katie Ward:

That’s awesome. So now diving a little bit deeper into the recent industry changes with COVID-19.

How has that impacted your career as a poultry?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, that’s has been tough. Some of the fall out of COVID due to the different variables, essentially one of my layouts was so long that I lost an entire flock of chicken. So this year's income will be short, one flock of chickens because my lout was so long. And which is tough when you consider that is 20 -25% of my yearly income. So, we’ve looked at different options and we're definitely the pincher of pennies, but that has really made it hard because that's such a large chunk of what we use to make ends meet.

Katie Ward:

That's definitely difficult. And to give some of our listeners perspective, do you typically get four to five flocks a year from your integrator?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Yes, with the smaller birds we've been growing recently, we have five flocks a year. So for anybody who's not familiar generally speaking, we have four mortgage payments a year, and so we do a lot of things quarterly, but that, that fifth flock is really what helps pay, the the insurances and the taxes, and the other large bills that we have. That’s just to provide a little bit of perspective on that. So it's really necessary, you know, we have to pay our mortgaged, taxes and insurances because they are necessities. So it’s a challenge when you take a hit like that.  

Katie Ward:

Yeah. And I know a lot of industry folks have been trying to work through all the changes that COVID-19 has brought.  I'm sure you've learned something throughout all of this.

Is there anything that you can take away from the last six months?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I have come to realize that there are certain aspects that I can't control and it’s better to not stress over them. I think we honor that in life, but I've learned at real time, the last six months, because, with a fell out like that, I cannot spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week stressing about that. I still have children to raise and another job to do. I think it's just to put things into perspective. I am not trying to toss anything out, but Farm Credit’s been great. I contacted my loan officer, as soon as I found out we were getting depopulated and she's been wonderful and just really gave me the confidence that they're going to work with us. So everything is going to be okay. So to do everything I can on my end, but not to be overly stressed. I have people backing me to help me get around those things.

Katie Ward:

You spoke about your other job. Do you want to now dive into your nursing career because you do such a great job balancing being both a farmer and then, a nurse teacher now.

So how did it all start for you in nursing?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

When I graduated high school, I was taking classes that just speak, you know, and I took anatomy and physiology and I absolutely fell in love with the physiology of the body. And you go a little bit into the disease process at that point in time, but I just thought it was fascinating how the body actually functions and how it works. But there was one big snafu was that I had a terrible fear of needles. So I did not think that I could ever be a nurse. My mom's a nurse and both of my sisters are nurses, I thought there's no way I could be a nurse. I hate needles now. I took anatomy and physiology one and then two, I thought I am going to try it. I'm going to try it and come to find out, it looks like we only have a fear of getting needles because I can give them fabulously. Nursing school actually went great for me and I love it, but that was my only hold up there with the nursing. I've always liked people and I like to be around people and help people. So just kind of fell in my love of people and my love of the physiology of the human body and the team together. And I overcame my fear of needles. Now. I still don't like to get them personally myself, but I can give them.  

Katie Ward:

That's funny. I'm right there with you. I don't enjoy getting needles either and I've never given one, so I'm not sure how that would work, but I'm glad that it all worked out for you.

So where did you start your nursing career? After nursing school?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I went to Chest River Hospital Center in Chestertown. That's what it was then it has been bought by a university, around 10 years or so ago.  I started there and I actually worked there for 12 years until I got my job as a nurse educator in which for a little while I did stay on his relief there and would just pick up a shift here and there. But now I'm just exclusively teaching at Chesapeake. So I'm teaching the nursing students.

Katie Ward:

What's your favorite part of being a nursing teacher?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I love when the students have that light bulb moment and like things just click for them. And it's so important to have competent nurses. I love teaching the nursing students because they're just so thirsty for knowledge and I get to have them both in the classroom and in the clinical setting. So in the clinical setting, when everything you learned in the classroom just comes full circle on the app so you can see it. And they're a part of it. And there's light bulb moments when it all clicks. It's just, it's a great feeling as an educator, and it feels like we've really done our job.

 Katie Ward:

Yeah, that's great. I can imagine.

 

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Katie Ward:

So what is your biggest challenge that you think you face either being a nurse or a nursing teacher and it could be you personally or just all nurses in the industry?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, I think, and this is really probably for me. And I think I know a lot of my other fellow nurses, it's really hard to balance your commitment to your job and making sure that you keep your family health.  We go and we take care of other people selflessly. That's what we do as nurses, but we have to make sure, especially with COVID and we never wanted to bring anything home to our children. But it's so prevalent right now with COVID. We have to be very careful as to what we bring home. And so balancing that healthy act of making sure we don't contaminate our family members is really challenging for a lot of people.

Katie Ward:

Yeah. And I think that that's something everyone has learned in the past six months, no matter what their job is or where they go is making sure that they don't bring anything home to their family and that they're being cautious.

So talking more again about COVID, how has that impacted your career as a nursing teacher or how has it impacted nurses that you know, and have worked with?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, as a teacher, it was a really big change because in the middle of last semester, we had to go exclusively online. For some courses that's a realistic expectation and we did it as nurses, but trying to teach nursing students with virtual simulations and such things is a challenge because ultimately they're going to be caring for real live human beings when they become nurses. So trying to simulate that with different virtual experiences is really hard and the virtual simulations are fabulous as you know, in addition to face to face interaction in clinical experiences with real patients. But as a total substitute, it has its challenges. So luckily we are back into the clinical settings this semester, so they can actually care for real humans. But it was really challenging from that standpoint as an educator to try to make these virtual experiences as real life possible. So they got the same quality education that they would get if we were actually in the hospital setting.

Katie Ward:

The virtual environment has been difficult for all educators and learners the last few months. So I definitely applaud you for diving right into that. And I do agree with you. I mean, nursing is such a hands on in person physical job that you can only kind of do so much virtually. So I'm glad that you all are back in the classroom. It’s really got me thinking recently how the agriculture industry has also been adapting to the virtual environment. And I think that we will start to see more classes and learning virtually instead of in person, because I think it's been pretty beneficial for farmers to not have to pick up and leave their operation to go attend a training when they can do it at home. I mean, you, as a poultry grower know how important it is to be close to the farm if something does happen. So I didn't know if you had any thoughts of how positives that COVID-19 could bring in aspects to the virtual environment for the Ag industry. I think it's kind of limitless at this point.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

It has forced people to become more comfortable with things such as zoom and the, you know, the virtual conferences and the virtual conversation. I think that's great because, you know, otherwise, some people would have never learned. So I think it's great because that'll make it more accessible even if they have in person seminars, you know, at some point in time you can always video them and put them up as a webinar for people to watch later. Because like you said, we don't always have the opportunity to leave the operation, to leave the farm. And it's so much easier when you can just log on and you don't have your transportation time. Like for me, sometimes I don’t have childcare. I can just, watch from home with my kids. So it does, it makes it much more accessible. These are the learning opportunities.

Katie Ward:

Yes. 100%. So speaking about childcare, you just mentioned, sometimes it's hard to get away from the farm.

How do you balance your two careers as a poultry grower and a nursing teacher?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, thankfully for my husband, because I used to work night shift, weekend nights actually. So I had much more daytime availability for the first several years the farm was in operation. So when I switched to being an educator, it's more daytime, weekday hours now, which is great, but does take away from the farm. I do have off summers, which is fabulous especially with poultry farming, we can't leave the farm in the summer, so that's great. But thankfully, my husband is here and we kind of balanced between he and I, doing chores and my oldest who is 12 can kind of keep an eye on the children in the house. They have walkie talkies so they can communicate, or a lot of times I can't actually go out and they go out and help with the chores. So they're actively involved too.

Katie Ward:

Do you feel that one career has helped you become a better either poultry grower or nurse and nursing teacher?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I think definitely all the changes that I saw in the healthcare industry over the first 10 -12 years that I did that really helped me prepare for all the changes, because agriculture is very similar. There’s lots of changes all the time and you kind of have to roll with them and you have to put things into perspective. Again, like I said, there's things that you can and can't change. And we have to be as humans can be resistant to change. But over my time as a nurse, I became much less resistant and I embraced change much better, which has served me really well. Because even though I've only grown chickens for four years, there've been a lot of pages and not just COVID, we've had different challenges, but I've learned to kind of roll with it and take it, one day at a time. So I think that the way I embraced change, it was a good way to come into the poultry industry, I guess, because there's, it's ever changing, just like nursing.

Katie Ward:

Just such a great quality to have in any aspect of life, not just your career, because change is pretty innovative.

So do you have any future plans or goals for your poultry operation?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Well, I honestly right now with COVID, I just want to sustain currently. We are at a good size with the four houses. I don't really want you to expand. I just want to continue to do what we're doing now and continue to do the best job that we can do.

Katie Ward:

I know recently with COVID, nurses have now been considered first responders, when people would originally think of the term first responders, they would think fire, EMS and police, but now with all the nurses being right on the front lines, helping to treat COVID-19 patients, you know, we've been very, very thankful and graciously calling them first responders. October 28th is actually First Responders Day and where we are honoring and thanking our first responders.

How can you kind of speak on how nurses have always been first responders?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I think they've always, especially, ER nurses have always been on the forefront. I had the opportunity to be cross trained in the ER and really in there with them. First responders we think of people like you said the medics that were responding, they absolutely are from anybody and everybody can walk into the ER at one time and you don't know what you're going to face on. Their first point of contact is often a nurse. You know, it's not necessarily a medic or somebody with EMS. So they have really been first responders forever. And I find that they kind of got overlooked for a long time, but they've always been there. They've always been on the front lines and even to think about COVID-19, like I said, anybody can walk in and I have several ER nurses that are friends and it's been really scary and challenging for them. Because we just walked in and you're not sure their signs or symptoms until you start assessing them. At that point, you've already been exposed to them and it's a whole different realm of nursing, but I feel like nurses have always been first responders.

Katie Ward:

I could not agree with you more. And like I said, we're very appreciative for all of their hard work, the last seven months now with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also like the emergency room nurses for all of their hard work that they've been doing pre-COVID as well.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Yes, because they do a lot of the stabilization, you know, when somebody presents directly to the ER, they do a lot of the stabilization that you would see out done out in the field by the EMS or the medics or something like that.  So they really always been there and done that. And they are incredible. I really enjoyed my time that I got to cross train down there and I learned a lot from them.

Katie Ward:

So before we end our conversation today, we like to ask all of our podcasts guests one final question -

And that is what do you advocate for in agriculture?

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

I really feel strongly that I need to advocate for the general public understanding more about agriculture. We recently, especially in the last, I know 5-10 years, we have gotten really a bad reputation, I think with a lot of the different populations. And I really just wished that before people believed everything they read or every video clip store, video clip, they saw about farmers that they would do their own research and they would actually go to a farm, any farm and see the livelihood that we live and the passion that we have for what we do. And that we really are. Farmers are the original stewards of the land. And I feel that we very strongly, still want to be the stewards of the land, even though some people don't agree with that, but I just wish there was a better understanding for agriculture in general.

Katie Ward:

I agree. And I mean, that's one of the reasons why we have this podcast trying to share stories of farmers in the mid-Atlantic region and give listeners just another opportunity to get to know them and why they do what they do and how their practices can be both environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

We're very passionate about what we do and the vast majority are family farmers. I just wish there was a greater understanding.

Katie Ward:

Well thank you so much for joining us today!

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

Thank you for having me.

Katie Ward:

Your whole life story of growing up and have your family having poultry and then you becoming a nurse and then buying and building your own poultry houses and then now teaching nursing is just very inspiring and, we're very glad to have you as a member of MidAtlantic Farm Credit.

Katie Winstead Reuwer:

 Thank you. Thank you. It's been an adventure for sure. Thanks again.