Gratitude

“For our country, for us all,” read the Marines billboard as I drove through the nation’s heartland this week. I turned the phrase over in my mind, thinking just what kind of courage, heart, and love of country it takes to serve iImagen our nation’s military.

A rush of thankfulness flooded over me as the tires of my Jeep Patriot (yes, I’ll admit, part of the reason I bought it was the name) ate the miles to the next destination, and farmland stretched endlessly on either side of the highway.

I whispered ‘thank you.’

On Monday, May 26, our nation commemorates Memorial Day, which began when the grave decorating custom became more prevalent during and after the Civil War to honor soldiers who died — both Union and Confederate. Since then, the final Monday in May has become a special time to honor all of the men and women who have died in military service, paying the ultimate price for our freedom and our country.

ImageAs I have been traveling quite a bit this month for various projects in my ag writing and photography business, I am struck by the diverse beauty of both the land and the people in our United States of America.

In the long rural stretches of the prairies from the Midwest through the Great Plains — where you can drive for almost an hour or more and not see another vehicle — you get a feel for the bigness of this land and its call of freedom.

Image

In contrast to the East — where the patchwork of small farms live at the fringes of suburbia with subdivisions sometimes sprinkled between them — agriculture, both land and livestock, is pervasive in the land where the farm report comes on the radio several times a day and consumes the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the local cable channel as I write this.

American soldiers come from all walks of life and all regions of the country, but one thing we often overlook is the high percentage coming from farms and ranches and rural living.

In our hometown in eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, my favorite part of our sons’ involvement in the Boy Scouts as they were growing up was the Memorial Day procession honoring the fallen in the cemeteries east of New Holland. It was a long morning that started very early, and often stretched until noon, but such a good reminder of why we celebrate this day that has come to also represent the beginning of summer.

As I drove past that billboard this week — on a highway near Lubbock, Texas — I also whispered a ‘thank you’ for the fathers and the mothers, the families and the communities, who have raised, and then lost, those men and women who have paid the ultimate price so that we all may be free.

** President Reagan said it best here: 

flag-Eagle1787cover4

Busy defines the life of a farm mom

My second blog post for Mother’s Day 2014 is the reprint of a feature story in the May 9, 2014 Farmshine. It is inspired by my very busy friend on their farm in northwestern Indiana. LuAnn is not alone as a busy mom and grandmom, and what I love about her is she is always ready to show people around and to talk about dairy farming to visitors — or on camera — at a moment’s notice. She stresses how their place is not fancy, and in her humility, declares that she is not perfect and can “drop the ball…” I get that. We all drop the ball, but what’s important is that we keep on rolling. 

Image

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, May 9, 2014

HANNA, Ind. — Mothers — and grandmothers — all have those days when they wonder how they will ever get everything done. The long span of hours from pre-sunrise to long after sunset are filled all too easily on a dairy farm. Those hours can simply fly by when your ‘office’ keeps changing from the house to the barn to the feed store to the industry meeting you are trying to get to and back again.

When I feel stressed by all the “to-do’s” on my list, all I have to think of is LuAnn Troxel – a dairywoman, calf feeder, farm and veterinary book keeper, immediate past president of the Indiana Dairy Producers (IDP) and the organization’s current business manager, IDP newsletter editor, at-the-ready communicator, and — most importantly — mother and grandmother.

Anyone who has met LuAnn Troxel instantly feels at home. A more welcoming friend is hard to find. LuAnn is an easy going and knowledgeable dairy “agvocate.” It’s not that she doesn’t get worked up over the dairy farm myths circulating on social media – it’s that she doesn’t let them get to her. She is happy and confident in her responses, and breaks the topic down to its most basic element with consumers.

Those in the farming community wouldn’t believe she wasn’t raised on a dairy farm. But that is the case. What is second nature to her today was learned when she married Dr. Tom. Not only do Tom and LuAnn Troxel operate (now with their son Rudy) a 150-cow dairy farm in northwestern Indiana, they also tag-team Dr. Tom’s solo practice: South County Veterinary.

On the morning of an IDP event, I marvel at the day she puts in before her other day begins. Morning coffee, breakfast casserole in the skillet, phone ringing as folks call for Dr. Tom or to order supplies…. In between preparing breakfast and answering the phone, the animal health supply truck rolls in, and she takes a quick break to meet the new rep who will be bringing things by.

It’s end of month and she has invoice work percolating on her computer, as well as running through the inventory to put together customer supply orders and to give the animal health rep an idea of what they need today and by the next time he stops by.

By 7 a.m., she’s walking two full mugs of coffee out to the barn and it’s time to pick up the waste milk at the parlor to start feeding the calves in hutches that line the side drive in view of the large country kitchen.

A phone call interrupts her flow. She jots down a note, and with phone still balanced in the crook of her neck, heads off to the sand pile to find Dr. Tom bedding stalls. They confer. She hands him the phone and the note. Waits a few moments, then phone in hand heads back to calf-row.

Image

Back inside after the calves are fed, breakfast is served, and a list of “morning calls” is prepared for Tom. A peck on the cheek and quick farewell and she’s loading the van with name tags and registration materials for an IDP meeting that starts at 9 a.m. an hour from home.

Not an atypical day really for someone who is in leadership positions for Indiana Dairy Producers, sits on a Purdue University task force, and several other industry groups while still making time for leadership in the local Master Gardeners club.

Whew!

It’s not that LuAnn is the only dairywoman or mother / grandmother with a full schedule – day-in and day-out. It’s that she so well represents what so many dairywomen juggle. They have their own work on the farm. They support their husbands, including a quick hop in the tractor or running to town for a part at a moment’s notice. They mother their children, and when the time comes, take joy in the grandchildren — especially watching them take on responsibilities and passion for the dairy farm or a career path that could take them away from it.

From the off-farm world, hearing a dairywoman like LuAnn is a breath of fresh air cutting its path through the stale and lingering smog. There are so many “fear-mongers” creating anxiety for young mothers shopping for food for their families. They breed a distrust of a perfectly safe and wholesome and affordable food supply — pushing families to fear anything that doesn’t say “no-this” or “without-that”.

Listening to LuAnn do the spots for DairyGood.org, there is a certain ease of which she speaks. It instills confidence that dairy farms are DairyGood places where DairyGood products come from. It helps young mothers forget their fears and shop with confidence.

Image

Why does she do it? “I always knew Tom and his family because we grew up going to the same church, and back then I didn’t have a true appreciation for the work and the lifestyle of dairy farming,” she says. “After having lived this with Tom for all of these years, and raising four sons here, I just know that if people can see how hard we work and how much love we have for what we do and our passion for the cows… maybe they will keep that trust in us that we are producing for other families the food that we feed our own families.”

She and Tom are grateful to work on their family’s dairy farm in northwestern Indiana to provide food for people every day. “We have always felt that opening our farm’s doors to the public is the best way to educate people on what it takes to produce milk,” she says. “We love that visitors see the care and respect we have for our cows and the environment.”

Dairy farmers have a real story to tell, and we’ll see a lot of that next month when June brings National Dairy Month. But for today, I wanted to remind us all that it’s the moms and grandmoms on the farm who have the power to make the true dairy story real for other mothers shopping for food for their families — one thought, photo, idea, conversation, smile at a time.

Happy Mother’s Day to Dairywomen everywhere! Be encouraged by every little thing you do to shine your light in the world.

Image

-30-

Troxel8475

LuAnn Troxel is an encouragement to others as she goes about her busy day. It’s sundown and she’s got the waste milk from the parlor to feed the calves in hutches. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Troxel0047 and 8502

As if the farm and her husband’s veterinary practice weren’t enough, LuAnn Troxel makes time for her passion — flower gardens. She proclaims: “We aren’t fancy.” And yet the layers of perennials and annuals around the property soften the edges and add color to the freestall areas. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Troxel6976

A phone call interrupts her flow. She jots down a note, and with phone still balanced in the crook of her neck, LuAnn heads off to the sand pile to find Dr. Tom bedding stalls. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Troxel6998

Feeding the calves morning and evening bookend the busy days on the farm and in the industry. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Troxel7042 or 7045

“There’s nothing like a dairy farm to raise a family,” says LuAnn with a smile. She is pictured here with one of her and Tom’s grandchildren. Photo by Sherry Bunting

‘Unstoppable Mom’ shared faith, family, farming with millions of TV viewers

Mother’s Day is around the corner and I have 3 posts in store for you. Here is the first — an oldie but goodie and one of the most requested reprints of one of my stories in Farmshine, which ran as last year’s Mother’s Dairy feature.

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine May 10, 2013

Image

COCHRANVILLE, Pa. – When Kelly King Stoltzfus wrote a letter about her mom to ABC’s “Live! with Kelly and Michael show,” she didn’t tell her mom about it because she didn’t expect her letter to get picked for the semi-finals and finals of Live’s “Search for the Unstoppable Mom” contest. After all, the show received over 20,000 letters written by children about moms nationwide!

But Mary Lou King not only made it to the final-four — which meant the show’s producers and video crew visited for two days to chronicle her life on the farm — she was ultimately voted “The Unstoppable Mom” by “Live” viewers across the country during the first week of March.

“This should really be the ‘unstoppable family’ award,” a humble Mary Lou said during a Farmshine visit to the family’s 150-cow dairy farm here in Chester County, Pennsylvania last Friday.

Along with a trophy, Neal and Mary Lou King received $100,000 for winning the contest. “We paid our taxes, gave our tithes, and the rest went to the kids,” she said.

Kelly, 22 and the oldest of the four children, is married to Kyle Stoltzfus and works as a nurse at Tel Hai in Honeybrook. Colton is out of school and works full-time on the farm. He does all the feeding for the King family’s dairy cows and youngstock, helps with milking, and crops 300 acres with his father. Kristy graduates from Octorara High School next month and starts nursing school in the fall. And Kandy, 14, was born with a mental handicap, having the brain development of a three month old child.

“We decided early-on that she would be raised here like a regular child,” Mary Lou explains.

“I think something stood out to those television producers when they read Kelly’s letter,” she adds. “They were curious about the farm when they came to do the filming and literally everything they saw here was something they had never seen before… right down to enjoying a cold glass of raw milk from the bulk tank. They swished it in their glass like they were savoring a fine wine. And they loved the peacefulness here and the wide open spaces.”

The television producers and film crew were also surprised at how much science is involved in dairy farming. Mary Lou recalls explaining what she was doing with the breeding wheel and in the pen checking tail paint. Their eyes would glaze over. “They never knew there were so many different jobs to do on a farm.”

Many portions of the letter stood out as being unique to the New York City television producers. The words “My mom has been milking the cows at 4:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. every day with my dad ever since they were married back in 1988,” certainly got their attention.

That, and Kelly’s description of her mother’s daily commitment to 14-year-old Kandy, who alternately dozed, then smiled a sweet and contented smile during our interview Friday at the kitchen table.

“I’m just a farm mom,” said Mary Lou, who came to represent farm moms everywhere during “Live” voting in early March. But she also struck chords with parents of children with special needs and with members of the nursing profession.

Pretty much everyone who viewed the video of life at the King farm was moved by the passion Mary Lou exudes for taking care of the cows and her family.

While Neal loves most the tractors and the fields, Mary Lou enjoys the animals. She manages the reproduction, including the breeding wheel, picking bulls, and buying semen. While son Colton now does all the breeding, Mary Lou checks cows for heat daily, and she does the herd check and ultrasounds with the veterinarian.

She doesn’t view milking as a chore. “It’s relaxing to me,” says Mary Lou. “It’s where I do my thinking.”

It’s also where she has done her listening as the children grew up. “Neal and I both appreciate our upbringing of being raised on dairy farms,” she explains. “If I’m not out there milking, I feel like I’m missing out. I’ll ask Neal what the kids talked about.”

Mary Lou’s sisters all married farmers and her brother has the home farm in Lampeter. “I look at my mom who milked until she was 50 years old. That’s my inspiration,” she said. “I saw her example and the example of Neal’s mom who passed away over a year ago, and I say to myself: ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

And do it, she does. After milking at 4 a.m., she cooks breakfast for the family and gets Kandy ready for the day. She’ll do herd work, book work, house work, and get dinner started before milking again at 4 p.m.  Then it’s back to the house, dinner on the table, Kandy’s needs to tend to, and leftover book work to take care of. She may get to bed by midnight and be back up at 4 a.m.

Asked what she hopes to have taught her children through she and Neal’s example on the farm? “Faith,” she said without pausing. “and the value of hard work. But what I really see them learning is to put Jesus (faith) first, family second and the farm third. I really don’t think we could farm without faith.”

“My mom and Neal’s mom both set great examples. I loved seeing their support of their husbands in working together on the farm, and at the same time I believe women can bring incomes to the family also,” she explains. “I hope I have been able to instill that love for family and for knowing that our daughter Kandy is important – just the way she is.”

Mary Lou sees the faith in farming as two-fold. On the one hand, the blessings of raising a family on the farm give opportunities to learn an abiding love for God’s creation. On the other hand, the challenges of farm life require faith as well to see things through.

“Neal and I really hope we’ve instilled in our children the values of farming, the hard work and work ethic,” she says. “We never wanted them to feel tied down, so they played sports, did 4-H and FFA, and had choices.”

In fact, the family names their registered Holsteins for what’s going on in their lives at the time. Being soccer and field hockey enthusiasts, they have cows in the herd named PIAA and Griffin. They also have cows named for other schools their school’s team has beaten or rivaled in playoffs. They have cows named for a favorite movie, actor, actress, or singer — including Pickler (as in country singer Kelly Pickler) and Pitt (as in actor Brad Pitt).

And last week, Mary Lou informed the “Live” producers that two calves were named after the Live hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. The heifer calf, Ripa, is out of the herd cow Rushmore; and the bull calf Strahan, is out of the herd cow Storm. “We’ll keep him as long as he performs,” Mary Lou said with a smile.

Image

She had emailed a photo of the two calves side-by-side in the calf barn and they made the show last Wednesday as the real Ripa and Strahan read Mary Lou’s email and held up pictures of the calf, giving “Live” audiences yet another exposure to life on a family dairy farm.

As spring unfurls throughout the Chester County countryside, Neal and Colton were getting their equipment ready last week for first cutting alfalfa just around the corner. They have a high producing herd, making 95 pounds/cow/day, which they attribute to their focus on harvesting high quality forages and working with their independent Agri-Basics nutritionist Robert Davis.

Image

“I like milking full udders,” says Mary Lou as Neal explained they feed a total mixed ration and that the ration forages are about 50/50 corn silage and alfalfa haylage. They also bale hay and grow their own soybeans for toasting.

Image

In addition to their parents’ example, Kristy says their involvement in 4-H and showing cows at the Solanco fair “made you really love the cow because when you own them, you really learn to care for them.” Sister Kelly enjoyed showing for the clipping and grooming “and making the cows really look good.”

Everyone here has a job to do. Kristy is still in school, but he helps with the afternoon milking as the designated “prepper.”

“What’s nice about living and working on a family farm is that the whole family is involved,” says Mary Lou.

“Everyone cares,” her children finish the sentence, adding that they haven’t lost a calf in three years since building the calf barn. “If any of us hears a calf cough or notices something, we’re right here to notice and we do something about it.”

Faith is also a big part of the equation in the family’s relationship and care of youngest daughter Kandy. “God has a reason for her here, a purpose. I don’t question that,” Mary Lou relates. “I know ABC had to remove some of Kelly’s references to faith and to Jesus in her original letter, but I think they could still see that what holds our family together… is faith.”

Image

Image

PHOTO CAPTION:

KingFamily6455 or 6456 or 6463:

Neal and Mary Lou King with their children Kandy, 14; Kristy, 18; Kelly, 22 with husband Kyle Stoltzfus; and Colton, 20. Winning the 2013 Unstoppable Mom award from ABC’s morning show — “Live with Kelly and Michael” — left Mary Lou wanting to thank everyone from the producers of the show to the viewers who voted for her in March. But what has meant more than the grand prize is that her daughter appreciated her upbringing enough to write a letter about it. Mothers’ Day is Sunday, May 12 and this week of May 6 — 11 was National Nursing Professionals Week. Mary Lou was inspired by her own mother Evelyn Rohrer and her late mother-in-law Jeanette King to want to milk cows with her children as they grew. Milking time is family “together time.” It’s where farm moms and dads stay in touch with what’s going on in their children’s lives. Her example in the barn and as a trained nurse with daughter Kandy also inspired daughters Kelly and Kristy to go to nursing school like their mom. Photos by Sherry Bunting

KingFamily6433:

ABC television personality Kelly Ripa reads a thank you email the “Live” show received from Mary Lou King on Wednesday, May 1 — pointing out the photo Mary Lou sent along of the little heifer calf the King family named “Ripa” and the bull calf (right) named for Ripa’s co-host and hall-of-fame football player Michael Strahan.

KingFamily6368:

Mary Lou reports the television producers of ABC’s “Live” enjoyed farm life for two days, right down to the flavor of the raw milk from the bulk tank. She sent an email of thanks last week and included a photo of the King farm’s new calves: “Ripa” and “Strahan.”

KingFamily6403:

Mary Lou introduces the heifer calf “Ripa” (left) out of Rushmore and bull calf “Strahan” out of Storm. The family tends to name their registered Holsteins after the people, places and events of their lives. The calves were born soon after Mary Lou was voted The Unstoppable Mom by viewers of “Live” co-hosted by actress Kelly Ripa and hall-of-fame football player Michael Strahan.

KingFamily6373:

The back porch view of dry cows grazing at the King family dairy farm. The farm, founded by Neal’s grandparents Valentine and Naomi King, and then operated by Neal’s parents Merle and Jeanette, has been in the King family for three generations. Son Colton is the fourth generation now working full-time on the farm.

KingFamily6381:

Neal King took a quick break from fieldwork last Friday for a quick photo with Mary Lou. They’ve been milking cows together at the third-generation dairy farm in Chester County since 1988, and moved to the farm in 1995.

KingFamily6415:

Everyone cares about the youngstock at the King family dairy farm near Cochranville, and feeding is Colton’s job. He feeds all the calves, heifers, and cows on the farm.

KingFamily6419 or 6493:

Mary Lou loves the cow-side of the dairy farm. She picks the bulls and manages herd health and repro. Son Colton does the actual breeding.

KingFamily6482:

The Kings milk 120 cows, and base their rolling herd average on 150 cows, including dry cows. They watch the bulk tank production, which averages 95 pounds/cow/day.