12 days of Christmas… with a twist.
Day 1: I met these folks last summer, learning of this mission to Bolivia that is rooted in Pennsylvania while visiting the Rice family of Prairieland Dairy in Nebraska last Spring. Two stories in two dairy publications resulted at long last. This one was the cover story in the Nov. 27, 2015 Farmshine and another will be found in the Dec. 14 edition of Progressive Dairyman. What these folks are doing is “love in action” for sure. Milk and ministry are gifts that keep giving. They’d love to share the project with others by speaking at dairy, church and other meetings where people have a passion for children, ministry… and milk!
By Sherry Bunting
BREEZEWOOD, Pa. — The people we love and lose in our lifetimes leave indelible imprints on how we view the world and connect with others and where we put our time and energies.
For the dairy producers and industry folks involved with Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy — an orphanage of individual family units in Bolivia — the ‘Love in Action’ is linked to folks from Pennsylvania wanting to see that these children have the gift that keeps giving — Milk, of course!
The first seeds to build a dairy farm at Andrea’s Home were planted by the late Rodney Hawbaker, a Franklin County, Pa. dairy farmer. In late 2007, Hawbaker and his industry friends — Dave Pullen, a dairy nutritionist, Pete Hamming with AI, and Robin Harchak, a milking equipment specialist — brought their idea to Gary and Jerri Zimmerman of Love In Action International Ministries (LIAIM).
By 2009, they were fundraising, designing and planning for a dairy future at Andrea’s Home.
Known as Warm Springs Farm (Finca Aguas de Manantial), the Bolivian dairy project is so named in honor of Hawbaker, who died in a tragic farm accident in 2011 at the family’s Warm Springs Dairy, Chambersburg, Pa.
“This was Rodney’s passion,” recalls his wife Karen during a planning meeting of the LIAIM dairy committee just off the Breezewood exit of the Pa. turnpike recently. Karen runs the 160-cow dairy in Franklin County and has taken Rodney’s place on the LIAIM board and dairy committee as well as volunteering with daughter Kirsten to help with the dairy’s progress at Andrea’s Home.
“Rodney was instrumental in helping design the barn as well as spearheading the initial fundraising through our church and a heifer sale in September of 2009,” Karen relates. “Rodney, Pete, Dave and Robin really dug into this, and we would travel to Bolivia every few months to work with the children and provide labor for the barn.”
Andrea’s Home, too, has its history — so-named for the Zimmermans’ youngest daughter Andrea, whom they had lost to cancer. Gary, a carpenter, and Jerri, a teacher, continued their mission work by fulfilling Andrea’s dream to focus the mission work on children. Thus, they set up Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy through LIAIM. With the advent of the dairy project, the concept of Andrea’s Home has the potential to become a somewhat self-sustaining model for the future.
Divided into four 2-parent / 20 child units, Andrea’s Home currently serves 63 children with plans to build four more to serve 120 children. The dairy has become a key aspect of the planning to realize the goals of expanding Andrea’s Home and to build at a second location.
The heifers and bull for the dairy were delivered in 2014, with calvings ramping up through the summer and fall. Now plans are underway to build a processing facility and retail store.
The cow-to- consumer dairy has a fourfold purpose: Nutrition for the children, education and skills for the children, a business plan that improves the community infrastructure while employing members of the community, and eventual retail dairy sales to support the growth and mission of Andrea’s Home.
The nearby town of Guayaramerin is home to over 40,000 people. The region is isolated and poor with many children orphaned by tough lives on the street. Being just a mile from the Brazilian border — where coffee houses proliferate — the hope is that Warm Spring Farm can provide a source of milk for the orphanage, the town and additional offshoot sales to tourists crossing the Brazilian border, through a coffee and smoothie house run by the home.
“We are looking for others in this compassionate dairy industry with the heart to come down to Bolivia and help with the processing end of what we are planning,” Gary Zimmerman explained. “We want to have the capability to produce milk and also yogurt, butter and ice cream with the whole project providing a source of revenue for the orphanage, as well as learning opportunities, work and nutrition for the orphans.”
“We’re ministering to the needs of the orphans, and also trying to change the culture of what they return to for their futures and that of the region,” he added. For example, when the children age-out of the home, they will have skills and a purpose and something to turn to and a good base on which to continue their education.
Gifted 230 acres of land by the veterinarian who today serves as the farm’s director, they have stocked natural springs with fish and planted orchards and gardens, along with the work of getting the dairy up and running.
The processing and retailing idea began to form when five acres became available last year in the nearby town of Guayaramerin. With a location to build a retail store, the processing facility plan became the logical next step.
Since 2008, the group closest to the Warm Spring Farm project have worked to raise funds and to gather and send work crews to build the dairy. Now that the focus has shifted to processing and retail construction, they are reaching out in search of folks with this expertise. One such person is David Rice, a former Berks Countian who has two sons dairying near Kempton, Pa. and a son that is manager and partner in Prairieland Dairy out in Firth, Nebraska.
Rice bring his building and dairy background, along with knowledge of the milk bottling and ice cream making at Prairieland, to his volunteer trips to Andrea’s Home.
He observes that, “Not only will the young people learn agriculture and industry skills, they will also learn the business side of operating the future store.”
“All the profits will go back to benefiting the home, and to build a second home with the idea that the business can be developed to cover 65 to 75 percent of the cost of the home’s operation, which now relies mostly on donations,” Zimmerman explains.
While the dairy’s initial cowherd consists of a native breed suited to the climate of life right on the Equator, the dairy committee plans to improve the herd with good milking genetics via AI crossbreeding.
As first calvings and milking are underway, the director brings milk to the home from his own primarily beef herd, and the children learn to make dairy products for their own use.
While there are no other dairies in this poor region of northeast Bolivia, the LIAIM dairy committee, and the folks at the home, have toured Brazilian dairies to look at cropping systems and forage ideas such as sugar cane and yucca root, which can be fed as green chop to boost dietary energy for more milk production.
The milking facility uses a vacuum and bucket system, which serves well its current purpose.
“Bolivia is the poorest South American country, and this LIAIM ministry seeks to reach the children here to provide the nutrition of milk while teaching business and industry skills that they can learn to be a part of,” Karen Hawbaker added. “We want to raise them and equip them for life. What better way to teach work habits and skills then through dairy.”
Hamming noted that the kids just love the dairy farm, the animals, seeing things grow, and are anxious to see the whole project move forward.
Rodney’s good friend and area veterinarian Corey Meyers, DVM, wrote of Hawbaker after his passing: “Rod knew his purpose in life. He got it. Just days before the accident he had commented to friends in a Bible study in Ecclesiastes: ‘When I hear of a righteous man dying, I take it as a challenge or as a reminder that you never know when your time is up. Live each day as if it were your last.’”