Days 9 & 10: Paying it forward…

12 days of Christmas with a twist…

By Sherry Bunting

Days 9 & 10: We have all heard about the paying-forward at coffee shops and drive-throughs. I recently heard of a woman randomly giving cash to shoppers at a local department store. Isn’t that what Christ did for all of us? Isn’t that what God did by sending His son to be born among us that we may live? In my more than 30 years as an ag writer, what I have witnessed in the agriculture community is the profound, largely anonymous and often selfless way this community prays it and pays it forward as seen with two families — beloved cattle breeders — one suffering a tragic loss, the other continuing their over 19-month journey with an inspirational little girl. The  links in the story below take you to ways to help these two families to feel their love returned to them in abundance.  (Portions reprinted from Milk Market Moos in the Dec. 18, 2015 edition of Farmshine.)


Since Farmshine did not publish on the week of Christmas, I began last week’s column, with gratitude, wishing readers a Merry Christmas, a holiday of light piercing darkness.

Thank you for your hard work, your care and pride in your cows, your passion for producing a quality, wholesome and nutritious product we can enjoy and benefit from… and above all the way you rally to help one another in a time of need.

We see this repeated time and again, and recently, as farms in Pennsylvania suffered great losses of cattle from events such as a fire and a collapse as well as in other regions  storms and floods.

Farm families rally to help each other pick up and move forward. When one is injured, others are there to help take those steps forward. And, when one is lost, others are there to remember, and to stand with their families.

During this holiday season, enjoy the fruits of your labor beyond the tangible. While margins in farming are razor thin, it is the wealth of the spirit to be thankful for when the going gets tough.

The barn is a magical place this time of year, the humble earthly place where God presented to mankind His gift of unmatched love and mercy. The opportunities I have to feed a few head of livestock here at home are daily reminders that nothing beats the feeling of putting down fresh feed as the sun sets and watching the animals eat, then lie down and chew cud.

Wishing you and your families a blessed Christmas with some time to enjoy making new family memories while also reflecting on, and holding close, the memories of the loved ones who’ve gone before us.

I think of Jeremy McDonald’s family as he passed away unexpectedly last week in an accident. In 2007, I had the privilege of visiting with him at the family’s Century Farm near Middleville, Virginia and writing about his passion for cattle. His family’s beef, dairy and produce farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley represents four generations of passion for cattle and the land, and especially his Shen-Val Brown Swiss.

As fellow Brown Swiss breeder Allen Bassler puts it: “His love for cows was extra special. He had a great eye for dairy and beef. I got to watch him judge with Wayne Sliker at World Dairy Expo. It was so nice to see this event happen in his life.”

Jeremy was 39, but had already left quite an impact on others who describe the quiet and professional way in which he helped other young people find their passion for farming and registered cattle.


A devoted husband to wife Missy, loving father to son Tyler, and cherished son to Gary and Sharon, Jeremy will be missed. Halfway to its goal, A GoFundMe site has been set up for his family.

To me, nothing says what this industry is made of more than the way folks have rallied to support and champion the recovery of Reese Burdette. That kind of support is the glue that makes the dairy family, worldwide, a special one.

The healing power of love, for sure.

In June, I wrote in Farmshine about the visit of Reese’s special cow, Pantene, to Johns Hopkins in downtown Baltimore where Reese has been since May 26, 2014. Reese has been away from home for over 19 months since she was saved from a house fire that day by her grandmother Patricia Stiles. Having suffered burns on over 35% of her body, Reese has undergone countless procedures, including being in a medically induced coma for four months.

She pushes herself in physical and occupational therapy. The special visit with Pantene was a target for working hard in therapy.


“When the therapist asked Reese to stand longer or take more steps, it was all a build-up for ‘being strong when you see Pantene,’” Jackson explained.

“Dairy did good! This family makes a lasting impression,” Jackson observed. “Reese has brought the dairy community together like I have never seen before. She has made us all believe in the power of prayer. She has made us believe in miracles. She inspires us every day.”

The family has spent two Christmas Day celebrations in the hospital with their Reese as she recovers.

The Team Reese Blood Drive for the Red Cross had generated over 500 units of blood in its first month and another 400+ people pledged or donated blood in Reese’s honor last June, alone. The family wanted to give back by asking friends and family to help replace the blood she has needed over the past year. The Red Cross celebrity blood drive has picked up Reese’s story, and many celebrities are sharing it in the hopes of getting even more people to donate blood. Donations in her honor can be pledged online at SleevesUp for Team Reese on Facebook.

People ask what they can do to help the Burdette family, specifically, in their long journey… A giveforward fund continues for the family and Team Reese T-shirts can be ordered online


Day 7: Farm Toys for Tots

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 7:  The outstanding generosity of hundreds of farmers and ag folks inspired the first ever Farm Toys for Tots (purchasing farm toys and delivering them to Toys for Tots.)

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Santa comes in all shapes and sizes. For 70 years, Santa has come for up to 7 million children via the Marine Corps-sponsored Toys for Tots. This year, hundreds of farmers made sure trucks, tractors and other farm toys will be under some of those Christmas trees via Farm Toys for Tots.

With a GoFundMe campaign, they raised $7,025 and enlisted the help of 21 volunteer elves to deliver the purchased Farm Toys to Toys for Tots locations in more than 20 states “from sea to shining sea.”

The GoFundMe campaign for Farm Toys for Tots is completed for 2015. Organizer Diana Prichard tells the whole story … how it began, how it evolved, and gives all the stats at her “Righteous Bacon” blog right here !

Meanwhile, with 4 days ’til Christmas, the TOYS FOR TOTS Foundation could still use donations as they bring toys to 7 million children annually.

TOYS FOR TOTS is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas. The program was founded in 1947 by reservist Major Bill Hendricks. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity located in Triangle, Virginia, serves to fund, raise funds for, and support the program.

FARM TOYS FOR TOTS: Plans are being made to continue the campaign to bring Farm Toys to Toys for Tots annually!




Day 2: Nightly event raises charitable funds while making ag ‘cool’

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 2:  After interviewing Neil Messick two weeks ago for a Farmshine story about this deal running nightly at Messick’s Farm Equipment Dec. 4 through 28, we decided to check it out tonight with the grandchildren! Two thumbs up!


Sneak peek in ‘tractor row’. Photo by Neil Messick

By Sherry Bunting, Dec. 4, 2015 Farmshine

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — Whether or not a new tractor is under your Christmas tree, what farmer wouldn’t love to see a 30-tractor Christmas light show, and then some?

At Messick’s Farm Equipment in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County, Pa., 20 years of light displays along Route 283 gradually became more animated as Neil Messick, marketing and IT manager, and younger brothers Kevin and Lucas began collecting the things they might need to do something grand.

And grand it is. Since 2013, Messick’s, in conjunction with Kubota Tractor, has presented a massive animated Christmas light show set to music and viewable from their parking lot nightly between December 4 and 28.

Even better, the 20-minute program receives donations from viewers and has raised in its first two years a total $50,000 for charities that help local families.

“We obviously enjoy this, or we wouldn’t be doing it,” Neil said in a phone interview with Farmshine this week as the program is ready to kick off Friday. “What has been surprising is the sheer amount of donations. To raise $25,000 a year doing something we enjoy, just shows the giving spirit.”

While many of the visitors are local, it is surprising how far some will drive to see it. Last year’s inclement weather kept viewing traffic to 3500 cars and a dozen buses over the 24 days. Neil anticipates more will come this year, and hopes to raise $35,000 for charities.

Lights and technology are Neil’s “thing” while Kevin and Lucas work with the music and the sequencing.

“It’s something they work on at home at night,” says Neil. “We start in the summer and have the program planned three to four months in advance.”

An estimated 150 man hours of sequencing are involved and another 150 man hours of set up and tear-down. In addition, three to four staff members work nightly with parking, collecting donations and handing out flyers to cars, which can wait in line for up to two hours at the peak of the season.

New this year is the music (Sauniks Carol of the Bells), as well as the use of red-green-blue flood lights to mix the colors and make them more brilliant. Also new is a 44-foot air-operated tower that makes the giant Christmas tree and star move.


The view from our windshield (wipers included). Four separate sets of carols by digitized orchestra. Great sound via channel 89.1 on the radio dial

Together, Kubota Tractor and Messick’s pay the cost of the display, which includes 30 lit-up Kubota tractors, many of them having animated parts to play in the show.

“This is the combination of everything we love. We enjoy Christmas time and the lights (and of course tractors). We combine these things to make agriculture cool and engage our community in this way,” Neil explained.

Viewed from the upper and lower parking lots, visitors set their car radios to channel 89.1 for the music with which the light show is synchronized.

Click here to see a video preview

The 20-minute display runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. during the first seven days Dec. 4 to 10 and from 6:30 to 10 p.m. from Dec 11 to 28. For more information on viewing, including a map, visit

Donations to support the charities are collected at the end of the show. 100% of donations go to support needs of local families through Habitat for Humanity, Community Cupboard of Elizabethtown, Paxton Ministries, Water Street Ministries and Mennonite Disaster Service.

To view what is arguably the largest tractor light display of its kind synchronized to Christmas music, enter the parking lot from Mertz Road off the Rheems/Elizabethtown exit of Rte. 283, and be prepared to wait. Lines can be 90 minutes in the 10-days before Christmas, with lighter crowds generally in the first week of the display.