Gratitude Day 432
Fri., Apr. 3, 2020
Job 30:20: (Job said), “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.”
In my heart of hearts, I am a farm gal. Raised on a small Wisconsin dairy farm, much of who I am was developed and determined because of my experiences of milking cows, baling hay and caring for sick animals. These memories include lots of fond ones that bring a smile to my face when recalled. Before becoming a pastor, I worked in the dairy industry for years and I continue to have a part-time agriculture job today. I often say that I am the only pastor who also has marketed bull semen.
While growing up on a farm filled my life with thousands of wonderful experiences, it also taught me the difficult and hard lessons of life. Loosing a favorite animal, the realities of one’s paycheck being determined by something completely outside of your control and the long and arduous hours have completely shaped me into person I am today.
I witnessed first-hand the struggles, stress and anxiety of trying to operate a profitable dairy farm. In the 1980’s, my parents determined the stress was too much. With contributing factors out of my parent’s control, they made the painful decision to liquidate their assets. I clearly remember the first two times I ever saw my Dad shed tears: the afternoon we decided to sell the cows and then on the actual day the cows were sold. The night before we sold the cows, I milked in our parlor for the last time. Dad stood by and shared with me the shame he felt for not being able to financially keep the farm going. It was a very humbling conversation.
Fast forward about 30 years. For the last five or six years, the American dairy industry has limped along. Folks who simply love to milk cows and are deeply committed to providing a safe and healthy food supply have endured countless situations out of their control. Last fall, a sliver of glimmer appeared. For years, these salt-of-the-earth people stumbled along with painfully low commodity prices. Finally, prices were rebounding. Farmers were cautiously optimistic that the bend had been turned.
Until COVID-19 appeared. Out of the blue, this pesky virus has turned every American’s life upside down. As infectious experts guide the rest of us with ways to mitigate the virus’ spread and lower the number of infected people, society came to a screeching halt and we’ve bunkered down in our houses.
Things couldn’t get worse… could they?
Well, they did this week, for a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers. With the shuttering of schools, the #1 consumer of fluid milk in the U.S. came to an abrupt stop. Restaurant demand for dairy products has slashed. Wisconsin dairy processing plants are struggling to run at capacity with fewer folks able to work. This all translates for a greatly reduced need for milk from the farm gate.
It’s not easy to quickly change the amount of milk available for selling and processing. Suddenly, there is a huge over-abundance of raw milk and not enough places for it to be processed.
It is puzzling for dairy producers to walk into stores and see signs limiting the number of gallons of milk a person can buy when the night before, they received a phone call instructing them to dump the milk they will milk from their cows the very next day. That’s right. If you heard that some dairy producers have been asked to literally “dump” the product they have produced, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. It was for real.
Clearly, there is a disconnect between the milk being produced and it reaching store shelves. It’s a complicated and broken system that I won’t bore you with. What I do know is that folks I know who are proud to produce a very healthy and safe product, while carefully caring for their animals, have opened their milk tank and let the milk inside go to waste.
The irony is not lost on me that yesterday, a small group of volunteers and I packed 530 food bags for school students so they would have enough food to eat this weekend … while milk is literally going down the drain.
This is just one more example of how COVID-19 has dramatically changed our culture, society and world today. We have lost all of our ability to predict or anticipate or keep up with the daily changes imposed upon our lives.
My heart goes out to the highly skilled dairy producers who had to follow what their processor told them to do: to find a way to get rid of their product. I can only imagine the tears that followed; if not externally, then internally. How long will this continue is completely unknown. What I do know is that none of these folks anticipated something like this would have happened only a couple days ago.
Every American is being affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. Period. As we hear stories that almost seem impossible, let me assure you this one is real.
There are funds ear-marked for the dairy industry in the most recently passed CARES Act. How these funds will be utilized has not been determined. In the meantime, is there anything a milk or cheese lover can do to support those who provide the milk to make these products can do?
Certainly, you can continue to consume dairy products. When you are at a retail market that limits the amount of milk or dairy products being sold, speak with the manager and inquire why their store has not been able to receive more product.
Donating dairy products to your local food pantry sounds good. Before doing so, consult with the folks who run your local food bank. Distribution methods have changed dramatically. How your local pantry can handle dairy products may have also changed. Reach out to your elected officials and share with them your concern for dairy producers and the effect COVID-19 has affected them.
People continue to ask what they can do in light of COVID-19. Personally, I feel THE MOST important thing any of us can do is to pray. Pray for the folks who have the virus and their families. Pray for the first-line responders who are treating and managing the care of the infected. Pray for the folks making sure we have a safe and reliable food source. Pray that a safe vaccine will be available soon and treatment options expedited.
And yes, please pray for the dairy producers who had to dump their milk yesterday. And/or today. Or the next day. It’s very stressful and challenging time right now. They could sure use some additional words shared on their behalf to the One who is always with us; even when God feels terribly silent.
For God’s presence even when God is silent, I am grateful.
Holy God – we lift up these words that were inscribed by a Jew hiding from the Nazis into the wall of a cellar: I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when feeling it not. I believe in God, even when He is silent. Amen.
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