The Groucho Duck

Tucked away in a box in my closet is a gray sweatshirt with a purple duck in Groucho Marx glasses on it. No matter how many times I’ve moved, that sweatshirt tags along with me because of the lessons that duck taught me.

See, back at Chapman High School, we had a drama and speech teacher, Mrs. Lisa Divel. Now, on the first day of freshman speech class, which was required if you were going to participate in Forensics competitions, Mrs. Divel would explain the unofficial Groucho Duck mascot of the theater kids.

“You kids have a lot to navigate in school now. We expect a lot out of each of you in all of your classes. You have to juggle so many things from school, sports, home and more. But when you get overwhelmed, I want you to think of a duck in a pond.

“Above the water you see this duck just gliding along. He’s cool, unruffled. He looks almost serene. But below that surface, that little duck’s feet are paddling like crazy to move him from Point A to Point B.”

“If you take anything from my time with you, let it be this: Be a duck. Life is going to throw everything at you at once. Stay calm and paddle like crazy.” As for the duck’s Groucho glasses? Well, even if you’re a duck, don’t take it all so seriously.

That Groucho Duck stuck with me all of these years, through a lot of overwhelming points of my life. And, as I look around at my farmer and rancher friends, I see there are plenty of serious topics that could be quite overwhelming to them today. 

It’s not enough to just plant and harvest the crop or care for the livestock and do so with negative breakevens. It’s not enough to understand changing markets, international trade agreements and banking regulations. It’s not enough to manage labor, follow equipment upgrades or navigate rapidly advancing technology. 

Now they have to convince consumers that they should be trusted to do so using the best science and tools available to them to improve their efficiency and continue to keep the food supply plentiful and cheap and available on demand. Low commodity prices over an extended period take a toll on their physical and mental health. They have serious concerns headed their way and they are paddling like crazy just to keep their heads above water. 

But if there’s one thing that the Groucho Duck taught me, it’s that we can meet any challenge we face if we have the right attitude and a drive to meet our goals. 

Keep calm. Keep working on improving your farm. Keep reaching out to neighbors who don’t understand farming. Have faith. And even though it may seem difficult, try to keep a positive outlook. 

Just keep paddling.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].