Reel it in…

The definition reel (v) is as follows:

  • wind a line onto a reel by turning the reel.
  • lose one’s balance and stagger or lurch violently

This could sum up my first weekend with VALOR Class IV. And quite a bit of my life; so let’s start there, and reel it back…

Hi, I’m Kari Sponaugle, a member of VALOR Class IV. I’m a mother of two boys and farmer’s wife from Highland County. I’ve held the position of Extension 4-H Youth Development Agent for Bath and Highland Counties with Virginia Cooperative Extension for the last 5 ½ years. Before that I was a bank teller, before that an accounting-turned-agriculture student at Ferrum College, before that an advanced diploma-seeking student at Highland High School and before that, a 5 year old who just moved to the middle of nowhere. I can’t recall much of those first five years, so we’ll stop there.

KB at Camp, 2018

What my face looks like two days into 4-H Camp, each summer.


To say my life is reeling would put it calmly. VALOR fellows will find I’m quite wired, but  it’s a must, just to keep my head above water. In a nutshell, I work full time (currently the only housed Extension agent in a two-county service area) have two farm-loving boys, a workaholic, full of energy and vision farming husband and a 25-acre produce business…with a squirrel’s attention span.  I was never without an activity as a kid. My days were spent clogging, 4-H contests, sports, annoying my younger brother, enjoying academia and loving rural life. One of my favorite places, still, is to sit on a foot bridge between my granddad’s farm house and the maple sugar shack, especially when the steam rolled out the top of the sugar shack while the maple trees were running. I don’t sit there much at all anymore, but it was enjoyable when I had a moment or two.

Each year, if I wanted a 4-H project animal, I helped my granddad (dad’s dad) with lambing, vaccinating, hay making and sheep shearing (they stuck me in the wool sack). In turn, I was given three to four lambs to show. I’ll never forget the year I tried to pay my granddad back when he lost a third of his lamb crop to coyotes, and he cried – to which “coyote predation and awareness” was my capstone project at Ferrum College. It was the highlight of my summer to take animals I’d helped raise to the fair. Those lambs were from “my farm” (even though I lived in town and we drove 8 miles to get there) and it meant something. We had a helpful neighbor show up from time to time, offering livestock advice. As a teenager I didn’t want advice from anybody…but when the young livestock coach stopped in, I would listen…a little. Whatever his motives were for showing up, I found out later later in my college days as he told me – yes told me – I had to go on a date… and then share the rest of my life with him. But I digress…

us 2016

One of my favorite memories of learning during a 4-H project involved a dining room table, a lined piece of copy paper and a VERY sharp pencil (with a good eraser). There I was seated at that table, staring at this lined piece of paper with five sets of eyes burning a hole in my back while I wrote a market animal buyer’s letter. “You can write neater than that, erase and do it again”. My loving family was there the entire time, making sure I did it right.

Reeling in to today, as a mother of boys, I hope to do half as good my parents. They instilled in me a sense of independence, self-reliance and a strong work ethic. Nothing is out of reach with work and dedication. My father is an example of rural perseverance, starting his own business in a community of 2000 people and to this day has more business than he has time.

Today, I watched my son stride happily and confidently into preschool, hang up his Case IH book bag and blue rain jacket and march methodically to the sink after the PreK teacher instructed him to wash his hands. I wanted to be that umbrella mother and hang his coat and straighten his book bag, but learning comes with figuring it out on your own, with ‘guidance’ from others. Currently, he wants to be a cement truck driver, but very much enjoys his farm days with daddy.

jasper 2018 fair

So what’s this got to do with VALOR (after all, I’m just rambling and this is an agricultural leadership blog)?! I was instructed during VALOR orientation by a VALOR graduate to start blogging; it will be your homework! Sharing your story, or a piece of it, connects you with your reader. And by being a part of VALOR, you will HAVE a story. So as the good student I hope to be, I’m sitting here less than a day after Seminar I, staring at a Word doc and trying to ‘blog’ (this type of promptness is not my normal, my husband can attest. Our kid misses the bus, I’m late for work, I get the vehicle inspected AFTER the sticker runs out, the list goes on). 4-H visits will pick up and the calendar will continue to fill…

Something else I learned this weekend at VALOR orientation was the definition of change, and how it happens:

“We cannot learn something new until what we know is being challenged”.

So what I’d like, or what I hope, to receive from my participation from VALOR is simple:

I want to learn. I want to be challenged and challenge someone else’s learning too. There will be casting, reeling, lack of balance and lurching all along the way, but the end result will be the best catch of all.

I’m not sure why I started this blog with fishing lingo – I’m no fisherwoman by any means-I don’t have the patience-but I dream about having a prawn farm someday. Reel it in, Kari…(squirrel!)

What I expect from my participation in VALOR is to learn, to share, to fellowship together with my class to enrich all of our lives and be advocates for agriculture. Until my next post, I will consume a bathtub full of coffee, survive on less than 6 hours’ sleep a night and chase two half-naked boys –outside, in the rain, through the mud – and harvest fall crops. Eat your Brussels sprouts!

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