This was asked of the Queen Candidates during an Ohio Holstein Annual Meeting I attended. Since then, I have thought a lot about what I would ask the President. After much reflection, it was really quite simple: “Mr. President, will you come to our farm?”
Will you come to our farm? The day starts at 6:00AM with my husband heading to the parlor and my youngest daughter racing to catch the school bus. Don’t be offended that I can’t stay and visit, I’ll be leaving for my new job off the farm with a cranky toddler in tow. You will spend a few hours getting the cows out of the field to milk, taking care of the heifers, scraping the barn alleys and bedding all the calf pens, all of which needs to be done before lunch. You and my husband will be on your own for most of the day, but your help will be greatly appreciated, since I can no longer afford to stay home and work alongside my husband like I used to.
Will you come to my farm? I promise you will have the opportunity to experience great joy or great sorrow, depending on the day. Helping deliver a beautiful new heifer calf, looking over a field of corn that has great potential to feed the herd over the winter...new life always brings hope and happiness. Other days, a tearful goodbye will be said to my daughter’s first show heifer as she is led onto the trailer for her last ride because in this economy, we cannot afford to keep a 6-year-old cow that isn’t getting bred back. You might have to help bury a calf that was just too sick to heal, despite the medicine that was given or the prayers that were said. Or, you may meet with the crop insurance adjuster after a hard storm has flooded out the soybean field for the third time in a season, accepting defeat that the harvest is not going to reap what was projected on the balance sheet that was given to the bank. Regardless of the ups and downs, we stay committed to the land that we love and the cattle that are in our care.
Will you come to our farm? We have lots of repairs that need to be done. From fence rows and free stalls to tractors and trailers, there is always something that needs to be fixed. Now that we’ve let our paid employees go, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to address all that needs to be done. Somehow, when the sun sets, we always manage to accomplish more than we thought we would when the day began.
Will you come to our farm? You can experience firsthand how safe our milk is for the consumer and help us educate others on where their food comes from. You will learn how careful we are to maintain safe and sanitary practices in order to provide a wholesome product. Most important, you will witness the high level of care that we give to our herd, treating each animal with respect. We love our cattle, they are our livelihood...each with their own name, personality and family history. I know you will only be here for a short while, but after your visit you will better understand why it is rare for a true dairyman to mistreat his cattle.
Will you come to our farm? In the evenings, the local 4-H kids come out to work with their dairy heifers in preparation for the county fair. This year, we have made 23 of our calves available for the youth in our area so that they may have the opportunity to experience programs and activities that our family passionately supports. You might have a chance to see my daughter’s FFA judging team come out and practice for their next contest. They have represented Ohio five years in a row at the National level…and none of these kids grew up on a dairy farm.
Will you come to our farm? I would love for you to meet my family and friends. Neighbors are known to drop by unexpectedly to lend a helping hand during our busy time, or to ask us for a favor when they are in need. We are the only dairy left in our county, so we tend to stick together, in good times and in bad. There are three generations of Bickels that flank the fields of the farm. I’m sure that you will enjoy meeting my father-in-law, listening to the many stories he has to tell about the farm and the community that he has lived in for over 50 years.
Will you come to our farm? Dinner will be provided. That is, after the evening milking and chores are done, homework has been completed and I finish up my work off the farm. Once the kids have finally gone to bed, you can help with filling out breeding records, updating information that FSA needs from us each month and other paperwork that tends to pile up on the kitchen table. You can sit with my husband as he opens the mail and help him decide who is going to get paid from this month’s milk check and who we’re going to put off until we sell another cow or a load of hay.
Will you come to our farm? Since it will be a long day, I invite you to spend the night. You may have to get up with my husband to check on a cow in labor, or help chase a group of calves that escaped from the barn, but you should get at least a good four or five hours of sleep.
Will you come to our farm? You will see that in the course of a day, my husband is more than “just a dairy farmer.” He is a veterinarian, a nutritionist, a mechanic, a mid-wife, an accountant, a cook, a community volunteer, a teacher, a coach, a manager and many other roles that he fulfills on a daily basis to keep the farm running. My husband had the opportunity to go to college on a partial scholarship and play football. Instead, he chose to stay home and help his father. I am very proud of this man-all the skills that he possess and the sacrifices that he has made so that the family farm can be passed down to the next generation.
Will you come to our farm? Here, you can see firsthand the results of raising a family that embraces a strong work ethic, shares a passion for agriculture, takes pride in the results of their efforts, conquers setbacks with faith and determination and still loves one another even when no one sees eye to eye. I truly believe the success of our five children is a reflection of their upbringing on the family farm. An opportunity that is available to fewer and fewer children, as more and more dairies decide they can no longer milk cows for a living.
Will you come to our farm? And at the end of your visit, can you take the time to explain to me why we are getting paid the same for our milk as my father-in-law did in 1978? Why is the government acknowledging that there is a surplus of milk in the US, yet new dairy operations are still getting approved to start construction? Why are my dairy friends and families receiving suicide prevention letters in their waning milk checks? Why is a lifestyle and livelihood that defines “Americana” being tested and forced to struggle on a daily basis?
Mr. President, why hasn’t there been more done to sustain the farming communities that have worked so hard to feed and sustain our country year after year?
Mr. President, when will you come to our farm?