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I often wonder about the processes used to make things. I'm always curious how someone takes raw materials and creates consumable products - for example, what all needs to happen to get that plastic gallon of milk into your refrigerator? Or, that can of soda? Or, the stack of Post-It notes?
Last month, I hiked almost 500 miles across Florida. I ended my hike in Ocala, FL which is the world headquarters for Country Meats, an advertiser on Boy Scout Trail. It wasn't a coincidence that I hiked to Ocala. I've been wanting to meet Paul, the owner, since we first talked almost two years ago because he seemed like such an honest, hardworking, straight-shooting guy with a passion for his business. In this electronically connected world, we often never meet the people with interact with online. My hope was that I'd be able to tour the Country Meats facility and see if the organization could live up to my high expectations.
When I was on the trail about 100 miles south of Ocala, I texted Paul to let him know I'd be in town in a few days and would like to visit. He said that would be great! So, on a Tuesday afternoon, my friend Sue and her son gave me a ride to Country Meats and joined me for a quick, whirlwind tour. Paul showed us the entire process from receiving an order, through processing raw meat and spices into individually sealed and boxed product, to shipping it out the door. It was amazing! We even got to see the top-secret, "can't photograph this", parts of the process that give them an edge in productivity and efficiency. That was what I enjoyed the most - hearing and seeing how the entire facility was laid out to make the process steps as streamlined and efficient as possible.
There were barrels of spices as big as 50-gallon drums. There were mixers, and stuffers, and cutters, and packagers, and boxers. So much high-tech machinery, I could have spent much more time watching it all. But, there were people, too, doing the parts that required human control.
And, the smell!!! I imagine I might get tired of it after awhile, but the smell of the smoker was wonderful. The smoker runs all night, smoking 45,000 snacks at a time which are then packaged the next day.
You can see one rack here that will be a tasty treat tomorrow morning, after spending the night soaking in flavor and slowly drying. One other thing I found interesting about the production - a USDA inspector stops by often to check that everything is within specs. So, cleanliness, correct heat, and everything that makes a safe product are top priority.
Paul is a sincere, yet very animated, fellow who really loves what he's doing with his business. He has a big, long-term vision for his family-run company, and a plan to make it reality. Everything is based on honest business, good product, employee welfare, and consistent improvement - sounds like a perfect combination to this Business 101 guy. :-) I like to see someone with qualities found in the Scout Law doing well, and I tend to want to support their efforts.
I blogged about Country Meats back in June, 2014 when our relationship was just starting. Since then, Paul and his gang running their operation have seen literally explosive growth! They've distributed 75 million smoked meat sticks through fundraising groups, and the numbers just keep growing.
There's a very good chance that no one is selling their snacks as a fundraiser in your area. If you are looking for a new way to pay for summer camp, trip to Philmont, or new tents, you really should contact CountryMeats.com - you can request a sample and they have a fun patch incentive program for Scouts that you'll see on that linked page. They've got some exotic flavors, some very hot and some smooth and sweet. The Ghost Fire is hot - really hot - honest!
Hey, there's one other way you might get your hands on some COuntry Meats snack sticks - enter my Monthly Give-away and maybe you'll win 2 dozen sticks!
Please send me a comment if you try Country Meats fundraising for your group.
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Have you ever used Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate? Sure, you have! But, you probably know it as the brand name of Mylar.
It was developed in the 1950s by those great chemical folks at DuPont that also brought us neoprene, teflon, kevlar, tyvek, and panty hose.
Mylar has many uses, but the one we're most likely to see is the cute, shiny, fun party balloon. Mylar balloons can be any shape and color, are lighter than latex balloons, and they keep the gas trapped longer. That's great for parties - BUT it means they can float longer and cover more distance if their ribbon breaks. And, break they do!
On every single one of my long hikes so far, in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now Florida last month, I have recovered mylar balloons far out in the wilds - a couple stuck in a cactus, one in a soybean field, four floating in a swamp, and others. I thought I was just unlucky to find this many, but it turns out balloon litter is a Huge Problem that effects the environment, animals, our electric grid, and maybe even air travel. I had no idea.
A few years ago, I attended a big Scouting event with my sons at a local amusement park. It was a big deal. To kick off the event, the local council arranged to have a couple thousand helium-filled, latex balloons released. I was not aware the release would happen until I saw the mass of color floating and spreading into the sky. It was sure colorful, but I just thought, "Really?" I was surprised that our Boy Scouts council would be doing such a thing with our emphasis on conservation and outdoor ethics.
All those balloons would disperse far and wide, but I knew they would eventually come to earth in thousands of places across the miles. All balloons that escape into the wild are a problem, regardless of the material used to produce them.
In 1986, Cleveland set the world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons at BalloonFest. It caused air traffic problems and interfered with a helicoptor rescue of two men that ultimately drowned. The organizers expected the balloons to float far away (becoming a litter problem someplace else), but weather caused them to stay right in Cleveland, creating a huge mess.
Main Problems with Balloons
- Every balloon released into the air is litter. They all come back to earth someplace.
- A balloon, whether mylar, plastic, or latex is man-made and takes years to break down. Mylar balloons hang around for a loooooooong time - think decades at least! This is a bad thing!
- A popped balloon, or pieces of balloons, lying in a natural area looks like food to many wild animals. Animals get tangled in the balloon ribbons and die. Animals consume the balloon material and slowly starve with their digestive tract blocked.
- While in flight, balloons may be a nuisance to air traffic, but I could find only this one article that may be a plane crash caused by balloons.
- Mylar balloons, being metallic, can cause fire and power outages when they hit power lines, like this.
- Helium is a non-renewable resource and every floating balloon frivolously wastes a bit. Some estimates are that we will exhaust the earth's usable helium supply in under 30 years.
OK, you get the idea that I feel balloons are floating litter, bad for the world, and possibly dangerous. So, what should we do about it? Well, the two main uses for balloons are Parties and Balloon Releases.
- If you really want balloons, use latex balloons. They are the least bad.
- Fill balloons with normal air and save the helium for science and other uses that make the world a better place.
- Attach balloons to walls, wire frames, or hang from ceilings. They won't rise on tethers, but they also won't float away.
- Dispose of balloons by having a fun Balloon Popping Party after the party. Place latex balloons in the garbage. Place mylar balloons in recycling.
- Use paper decorations instead of balloons.
- Visit BalloonsBlow.org for some alternate ways to decorate parties, including pinwheels, bubbles, and inflatables.
- Don't do it! There's just no valid reason to ever organize, host, support, sanction, encourage, or do a balloon release. It is simply littering, plain and simple.
- These releases are often to kick off an event, as a memorial, or a celebration. Alternative ways to recognize the event could be to fly kites, make giant bubbles, plant a tree, float flowers on a stream or lake, use drums, or even use tethered sky lanterns.
As someone trying to be a good steward of the earth, I do what I can to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles, one of which is Dispose of Waste Properly. I will not purchase helium-filled balloons. I pick up balloon litter I find. I encourage others to explore options to using balloons.
It seems to me to be an easy decision to use an alternative to balloons for decorations and events.
Check out BalloonsBlow.org for more information about the problem of balloon litter from a couple of girls in Florida. Then, decide what you'll do about it where you live, or not.
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I'm still here! I spent most of January on a hiking adventure through Florida. It was great to escape the bitter cold of Minnesota, but did no scout blogging.
I hiked almost 500 miles. My son and I started at the southernmost point in Key West and walked the 100 miles of connecting bridges through the Keys to Key Largo. From there, we got a ride to the southern terminus of the Florida Trail in the Everglades. We hiked another 100 miles through the Big Cypress swamp, Seminole reservation, and then sugar cane fields to Lake Okeechobee. The two days we spent plowing through the water of Big Cypress swamp was the wildest hike I've ever done!
My son returned to finish college and I continued north, reaching Ocala, FL near the end of January.
On this trek, I met some very interesting people, experienced exotic environments, and visited with some scout groups. You can read all about my trip on my Florida Trail journal, but I'll be posting a bit about some particular things I learned and experienced along the way.
Being used to preparing for the bitter cold potential of Minnesota winter camping, it feels weird to be packing for a trek across Florida starting on January 3.
Yep, I talked my youngest Eagle son into accompanying me from Key West to Lake Okeechobee. That's 300 miles along the Florida Keys Overseas Trail and the Florida Nat'l Scenic Trail. Assuming it's going well, when he leaves the trail to finish his last semester of school, I'll continue hiking on to Pensacola. Take a look at this Florida Trail map. There will be 1,300 miles along trails, beside roads, over bridges, and through swamps, forests, prairies, and beaches.
Instead of -20 degrees, we'll see temps in the 80s, and humidity that high as well. I'll finally get to find out how those Florida scouts camp in the winter.
Is your Troop, Pack or Crew in Florida? If you are in the Keys, Miami, or along the Florida Trail, I'd love to visit with your troop as I hike by. I already have three troops and one pack arranging for me to chat with their scouts. It would be awesome to meet more!
Please just email me ASAP and I'll get back to you.
Oh, and I've got stickers to give out to people I meet along the trail!
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Looking for something worthwhile for scouts to do over their Christmas break to fill some of that down time?
Through December 31, the Red Cross is offering FREE online first aid and CPR training.
It doesn't result in any certification, but it's a great way for your troop to learn, review, or brush up on their first aid knowledge.
See Red Cross page for info and free registration.
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Well, maybe not 'talk', but at least write or type!
There are over 700 Scouting groups looking for Pen Pals on the Pen Pals page. There are over 700 international Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts units looking for new friends to exchange greetings.
Many scout rank and merit badge requirements ask the scout to interact with other people in their community or around the world. Here's a great way to connect with other scouting groups out there.
Even if you aren't really looking for a Pen Pal, other activities can be more fun when done with scouts far away. For example, the new Code of the Wolf requirement #4 to send a coded message would be way cool if sent to a fellow scout in another state or country!
Or, the Building a Better World Arrow of Light requirement #10c to find a brother scout unit in another country can be done here.
Sign up your unit, find some Pen Pals, and start talking! (or writing)
Any advice from all of you about what you think of the situation in which a First Class scout named Robert finds himself? Please leave a comment that might help him out.
hello, I am a first class scout. I wanted help and advice. My parents showed me your website.
I joined my troop 9 months ago and recently made first class. I made first class because I am very motivated and have worked hard to earn the rank. I went to two summer camps and participated in every activity and event the troop offered.
I asked my scoutmaster for leadership projects three times and presented a proposal. He denied it because he feels I am going too fast. Being a scout is very important to me and it is not that I want to go fast. I am very goal directed and plan to be in scouting even if I earn Eagle at 14 which is my goal.
I don't know what to do. Other scouts have been appointed by scoutmaster for positions when they were scouts and tenderfoot but for me he is preventing me from advancing. I guess I wanted to know what you thought.
So, can you give Robert any advice before I add my thoughts tomorrow?
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The successful Scoutmaster is a big brother to the scouts in his charge.
His role is important but, when done correctly, appears to be easy and not very crucial to what is going on.
These 10 skills will help a Scoutmaster succeed in his role:
- Fire Starting - Every boy likes fire. A scoutmaster able to create a fire with flint and steel, magnifying glass, battery and steel wool, bow drill, fire piston, ferrocerium sparker, ... gives scouts something to shoot for. Demonstrating the mystique of creating fire in so many ways shows scouts there are many ways to accomplish a goal. See Starting Fires page.
- Story Telling - Sitting around a campfire, after the scouts have run their campfire program, has been some of the most fun I've had in Scouting. A campfire without stories gets boring fairly quickly.
Having a few stories ready to prime the pump of the scouts' imaginations, and being able to tell them well, keeps these times interesting and entertaining. Hearing an experienced scout tell a tale to younger guys and realizing he had first heard it from me a few years earlier is one of those fine rewards we get.
- Walking - Being in good shape so you can walk around camp with the scouts, backpack, and participate in day hikes is essential to fulfilling the role. Walking is the way scouts explore the wild places and that is where we need to be.
- Iron Stomache - Some scout concoctions created for cooking competitions can cause cancer, canker sours, and cardio concerns. Scoutmasters, often asked to sample food, need to be able to digest a wide range of flavors and textures.
- Sense of Humor - Knowing whether to laugh or cry will keep you sane, or at least help a bit. The more broad your sense of humor, the more you will enjoy scouts.
- See Silver Linings - It's easy to view every lashing project that falls apart, every burnt meal, every 57-match fire, and every mis-navigated hike as a complete failure. A scoutmaster sees the one knot that held, the cajun flavoring, the 193 extra matches in the box, and the extra map and compass work as successes.
It's those small successes that gradually build on each other until a scout is self-sufficient. He doesn't join the gang as an expert - if he did, scouting would offer him nothing.
- Listening - Scouts, being boys, often don't communicate effectively or even in complete sentences. A grunt, shoulder shrug, or look of the eyes may be all a scout has to say. Being able to listen to this, and hear what's being said, helps a scoutmaster be that big brother needed more by this sort of scout.
- Sit On Hands - Whether it's an exciting game, food preparation, setting up a tent, or leading a meeting, the scoutmaster that can refrain from getting involved is a step ahead. The fun, challenge, and success of Scouting is for the scout, not the adult volunteer.
- Live Vicariously - Since the scoutmaster refrains from direct involvement in most scouting activities, he must enjoy watching the accomplishments of others. Some adults push their children too hard to excel and the scoutmaster can't do that. He should make opportunities available, encourage scouts to achieve, and appreciate their attempts. Visiting with past scouts that are home from college, and believing that Scouting has helped prepare them for life, is about the best pay I could expect.
- Selective Deafness - This is most valuable at night. If you can't sleep through snoring, night noises, and giggling, you will be a grumpy, old scoutmaster way before your time. Ear plugs are an alternative if you are still working on this skill.
What other skills have you found especially helpful in your role as a Scouting volunteer?
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Here are two Word Doc files that might be useful to Cubmaster Ramon and anyone else tasked with filling out recognition item paperwork for a large Pack.
When a scout completes one of the new Cub Scout Adventures, he receives a belt loop or pin for recognition along with a pocket card documenting the adventure he completed and date. Writing in the information for dozens of scouts can be quite time consuming, so I created a Word doc that is formatted so it prints the content in the appropriate positions to fill out a sheet of 8 Adventure Pocket Cards.
DOWNLOAD the Adventure Pocket Cards document.
The new Pocket Cards stock are HERE
Each rank also has a pocket card for documentation. Purchasing adventure pocket cards and rank pocket cards by the sheet is less expensive than individual cards. Even if you have only a few scouts advancing at a time, printing in all the Pack specific info will make the cards look better and save you time. You can just leave the date and scout name blank if you don't know who it's for yet.
DOWNLOAD the Rank Pocket Cards document.
The new Bobcat Rank Cards stock are HERE and all other ranks are available, too.
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Visit RocketIntoScouting.org to sign up for Cub Scouts in Minnesota or South Dakota.
All area elementary schools are scheduled to have Scout representatives on hand from 7 to 8pm on Sept. 17. Let your neighbors with elementary school age boys know about the opportunity.
Cubmaster Ramon is trying to make the new Cub Scout Adventure recognitions a bit easier to administer in his Pack. He has a request from all you fellow Scouters...
Have you created a mail-merge, fillable PDF, or other such document into which you can enter Cub Scout names and print onto the new Cub Scout Adventure Pocket Card stock purchased from ScoutStuff.org? The cards look like this.
If you have such a beast, and would share it, please send it to me and I'll post it for everyone.
The new Pocket Cards stock are HERE.
Check out my current location on the map. I ran into Jeff and Gracie the Amazing Hiking Dog on the trail. They were out doing trail maintenance and are Scouters from Charlottesville. We had a nice chat and walk, and he gave me a coke. Thanks for the snack and all your efforts for the trail community!
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Find more Scouting Resources at www.BoyScoutTrail.com