Gratitude Day 290
Sat., June 22, 2019
Deuteronomy 26:15 – Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.
The text message arrived Holy Week. It read, “Good afternoon Diane. I brought last load of cows to stockyard just now. Harvest View Dairy is no longer a dairy. Fed God’s people for 49 years. Pray He is satisfied with that. Happy Easter to you and Rick. God Bless.”
The sender was our friend, Gary Paulman. Gary and his wife, Cleo have dairy farmed all of their married lives. Their son, Dale, has farmed with them the last couple of decades. Dale’s wife, Julie, and Cleo work off the farm. Gary and Dale, along with a hired worker and family help, milked cows as long as possible. This spring, they could no longer justify milking cows and continuing to lose money. They sold the cows to stop the financial bleeding.
Gary and Dale continue to raise non-milking animals for now. There has been and will continue to be soul searching. What is next? Can they hang onto the farmland and buildings? While Gary is theoretically retirement age, like many farmers and self-employed folks, he doesn’t have a typical retirement plan to turn to.
The Paulman’s are not the only Wisconsin dairy farmers in a similar situation. In the last 12 months, about 9% of the Wisconsin dairy farms have exited the dairy industry. After five years of recording-setting low commodity prices, declining dairy product consumption and recent tariffs on products sold overseas, it has been impossible for these dairy operations to survive a struggling and depressed environment.
This situation is not unique to Wisconsin. Every state with significant milk production has a similar story. Most of these operations are family run. When dairy farms exit the industry, companies and businesses they work with are affected. In Midwestern American, small and rural communities depend upon on a local agriculture economy. In Wisconsin, dairy is a $88 billion industry. When farmers exit, communities are impacted by a loss of their local economic base.
How this affect you? Here’s the deal. Everyone is affected by the dairy industry. If you drink milk, eat cheese, yogurt or ice cream, you are affected. If you spread butter on bread, you are affected. Maybe dairy products aren’t your deal. You are still affected. By-products from dairy animals are used in thousands of products from hand cream and lotion to handbags and shoes. There are lots of other non-dairy edible products which also utilize products from dairy animals, such as gelatin. It would be very difficult to find an American household without something from a dairy cow in it.
The spring weather has also dumped insult to injury for many struggling producers. Thousands of acres of land will not be planted to corn or beans this year because the ground has been too wet. In some areas, perennial crops that normally regrow after winter did not because of an incredibly cold winter. Prices for commodities used to feed animals is increasing and already strapped producers do not have the resources to purchase feed.
American was built as an agrarian society. Agriculture was the original way people earned a living. As fewer people were needed to raise food, people moved to town and pursued other occupations. We take for granted that we have a cheap, safe, diversified and accessible food supply here in the U.S.
But agriculture is changing … rapidly. People who have spent their entire lives raising food can no longer do so financially. They are faced with difficult choices. After pouring decades and years into a business, the operators often aren’t sure what to do next. Historically too proud to ask for help, several operations have turned to Go Fund me pages and the like to simply scrape by.
I believe Gary envisioned watching his grandkids explore being involved on a farm. Parker and Elsa’s mom, Ann (Gary and Cleo’s daughter), works in the dairy industry. They know where milk comes from and that brown cows do not produce chocolate milk. Yet, it’s impossible to Gary’s shoes and not struggle emotionally and mentally.
Throughout the Bible, we hear of a land “flowing with milk and honey.” This is an indication of rich land, valuable land, land ready for food production. It can be easy to blame God for the challenges in American agriculture and the dairy industry right now. There are a whole bunch of factors that have contributed to the current situation. I pray that folks like Gary, Cleo and their family, are assured that God journeys with they through these difficult days.
One night, Hubby Rick and I ate Friday night fish with Gary and Cleo and listened. Can we fix their situation? No. But we can listen … and this, we tried to do. We pray that they, and countless other farmers who are struggling right now, turn to God for support. This problem is bigger than themselves.
When we struggle with something in our lives that feels completely out of our hands, I pray that we turn to God for support, comfort and assurance that we won’t be alone. This is my prayer for Gary, Cleo, their family and all affected by a challenging dairy industry.
For confidence God journeys with us daily, I am grateful.
Holy God – you know the names of those people who are struggling with something they feel is out of their control right now. You know the details of every situation. I pray that you will be very present for these people so they can receive the assurance that they won’t be alone. Amen.
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