How do we unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

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A dairy panel with Mike Eby, Nina Teicholz (center), Lorraine Lewandrowski and John King (not pictured) was eye-opening to food-interested people at the 25th NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Minds were opened as food policy influencers report weeks later some are reading Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, and it is changing their thinkingAllied Milk Producers helped sponsor this panel. Stay tuned. 

JUNK NUTRITION SCIENCE STILL RULES DIETARY GUIDELINES

25th NESAWG brings dairy to table in Philadelphia 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 14, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Justice, power, influence… Balance. How do people unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

How do Americans have faith in an increasingly globalized food system that gives them choices, but behind the scenes, makes choices for them?

How do urban and rural people connect?

These questions and more were addressed as hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life gathered for two days in center-city Philadelphia recently for the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left), a central New York dairy farmer and attorney, talks with Niaz Dorry of NFFC. Dorry spoke on the opening panel about her 67,000-mile tour of rural America, urging others to “meet the farmers where they are.” Lewandrowski spoke about the ecology of rainfed grasslands in the Northeast and the struggle of family dairy farms throughout this landscape.

For Niaz Dorry of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the answer is simple: “Get out into the countryside and meet the farmers — where they are,” she said, during the opening panel of the conference as she talked of her recently completed America the Bountiful tour, driving over 67,000 miles of countryside — coast to coast.

Dorry also touched on the dairy crisis. “Go and experience their grief with them. Be with them at milking on Tuesday and see them sell a portion of their cows on Wednesday — just to make payroll.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding echoed this theme during the lunch address as he said agriculture is “zipcode-neutral,” that we need to forge “a more perfect union in our food system” but that the future lies in “differentiating” agriculture here.

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“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation…” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russ Redding.

“It’s nice to be with folks who understand the power of food to change lives,” said Redding as he mentioned rooftop gardens, urban brownfields and Pennsylvania’s rank as number two in the nation for organic sales.

“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation, by being able to grow and produce and market organic agriculture,” said Sec. Redding.

With the NESAWG goal to “cultivate a transformative food system,” panels and breakouts covered topics from building networks and insuring equity among sectors to understanding urban food trends and ways to position Northeast agriculture within the power grid that ordains the direction of mainstream food production, processing and distribution today.

A breakout session on building “farm-to-school” hubs, for example, gave attendees insight for getting more fresh, local foods into school meals. Presenters talked about obstacles, and how they are navigated, about martialing available resources, identifying networks, working in collaboration with others, piloting ideas and growing them. Farm-to-School began in 2007, and it is growing.

Another breakout brought a panel of dairy producers to share with urban neighbors the crisis on Northeast dairy farms. The panel featured the work of dairy producers Jonathan and Claudia Haar of West Edmeston, New York, who spoke about consolidation that has been underway for decades in dairy.

But it was an afternoon panel — Milk Economies, Ecology and Diet — that put dairy and livestock producers squarely in the realm of hope for a re-wind.

Keynoting this panel was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise and founder of The Nutrition Coalition. She covered the history of current government Dietary Guidelines and how rigorous studies have been ignored for decades because they don’t “fit” the narrative on saturated fats and cholesterol.

She was joined by dairy farmer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County, New York, who spoke on dairy ecology and how the rainfed grasslands and croplands of Northeast dairy farms are a haven to wildlife, especially important species of birds and butterflies and pollinators.

They were joined by Mike Eby and John King of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, representing National Dairy Producers Organization and Allied Milk Producers. The two men spoke on the dairy economy and what is happening on family dairy farms, struggling to remain viable.

“The land is most important to us,” said Lewandrowski about her deep love of Honey Hill, where her family has farmed for four generations. While, she is an attorney in town with farmers among her clients, she also helps her brother with the farm and her sister with her large animal veterinary practice.

Lewandrowski is known as @NYFarmer to her over 26,000 followers on Twitter — generating over 75,000 interactions from nearly a quarter-million tweets in the past 10 years!

She described a reverence for the land and its wildlife — cohabitating with a rich agricultural heritage and sense of rural community that exists within an afternoon’s drive of New York City.

“We have land that is rich in water,” she said with a nod to a dairy industry consolidating into regions that rely on irrigation.

“Our lands are rainfed: 21 million gallons of water run through our farm with an inch of rainfall,” she said. “Our farms are diverse across this landscape. But our farmers are going out of business in this economy. So many of these farms are then turned into urban sprawl. What will become of the people, the land and its wildlife?”

Lewandrowski talked about identifying bird species on their farm, of the crops and pasture in dairy operations, and the economic hardships she sees firsthand. She shared her vision of Northeast rural lands and what they bring to urban tables and communities.

Introducing Teicholz to an audience primarily of urban people, Lewandrowski shared how dairy farmers feel — working hard to produce healthy food, and then contending with poor prices driven by regulations that suppress its value.

“I didn’t know why our food is not considered good and healthy. Nina’s book gave me hope,” she said. “We are fighting for our land, and yet the vegans are so mean. When our farmers go out of business, they cheer on social media. They cheer when our families lose everything. But the land and wildlife lose also, and the vegans cheer.”

Teicholz traced the history of her 10-year investigation that led to The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It started with a newspaper assignment on dietary fat.

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Nina Teicholz explains the revelations of a decade of investigation leading to The Big Fat Surprise. In the 5 years since publishing, farmers seek her out to thank her. She says she never realized how it must feel to be a dairy or meat producer — producing a healthy product while being told it is not healthy and seeing your livelihood pushed down by faulty dietary controls.

“Before I knew it, I had taken this huge deep-dive into fats and realized we have gotten it all completely wrong,” said Teicholz, a former vegetarian for 25 years before her research.

“I’m here to speak today because I found Lorraine’s twitter account and fell in love with her photos and stories from the dairy farm,” said Teicholz. In the nearly five years since her book was published, awareness of ignored science has been raised.

A California native, living in New York City, Teicholz described herself as an urban person and how surprised she was to hear the stories from farmers about how her book and her work gives them hope.

“It breaks my heart to now realize that — after all this time — the dairy farmers and meat producers have been led to feel that there is something wrong with the food they are producing, and to see how vegans go after these farmers, and now after me too,” Teicholz related.

“How did we come to believe these things that led to the decline in foods like whole milk, and have pushed down the producer?” Teicholz traced the history of dietary caps to the theory of one researcher — Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota.

“Concern about heart disease in the 1960s led to many theories. The diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys was just one theory, but he was unshakably confident in his own beliefs, and he was considered arrogant, even by his friends,” said Tiecholz.

“When the American Heart Association nutrition committee first supported Keys’ recommendations — even though the scientific evidence was very weak — that was the little acorn that grew into the giant oak, and it’s why we are where we are today,” she explained.

Methodically, Teicholz took her audience through the science that was used to support Keys’ theory, as well as the many more rigorous studies that were buried for decades.

In fact, some of the very research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that had set out to prove causation for Keys’ theory was buried in the NIH basement because “the results were so disappointing to that theory.”

The studies that did not validate Keys’ theory — that fat in the diet is the cause of heart disease, obesity and other diseases — were suppressed, along with the studies that outright refuted his theory. A steady drumbeat of science — both new and exposed from those earlier times — shows a reverse association and causation.

48329399_2290819234570553_8398919649542012928_n.pngIn fact, since the Dietary Guidelines capped saturated fat in the 1980s — becoming progressively more restrictive in requiring lowfat / high carb diets — the data show the association, that Americans have become more obese, with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

“It feels like the battle is endless,” John King said as he spoke of the real struggle on dairy farms and of selling his dairy herd in 2015. “But it is rewarding and encouraging to see what people are doing to expose the truth now.”

King posed the question: “Do urban communities really care about rural communities? If not, then we are done. Our food will come from somewhere else and the system will be globalized.

“As farmers, we care about what we produce, and we care about our animals,” he said. “What happens to us on our farms trickles down to the urban areas. It’s an uphill battle to try to go against the status quo, and we need urban communities to care if we are going to be successful. It comes down to whether urban and rural care about each other. Do we care about our neighbors?”

Teicholz sees the U.S. being in the midst of a paradigm shift. However, it is taking time for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to change and open up to the science. She noted that in the 2015-2020 guidelines, the caps were removed for cholesterol, but they were kept in place for saturated fat.

“The cholesterol we consume has nothing to do with blood cholesterol,” said Teicholz. “The body produces cholesterol, and if we eat fat, our body makes less of it. It is the science that remains buried that needs to continue to surface. People need to know that the fat you eat is not the fat you get.”

She cited studies showing the healthfulness of full-fat dairy, that drinking whole milk and consuming the healthy fats in butter, beef, bacon and cheese are the fastest ways to increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is the saturated fat caps in the current guidelines that are the reason whole milk, real butter, beef, and 100% real cheese are not served in schools today, said Teicholz. She showed attendees how these recommendations drive the food supply.

“The recommendations are allowing children to have whole milk only for the first two years of life, after that, at age one or two, children on skim milk,” she said. “The recommendations drive what we eat whether we realize it or not.”

She showed how the current flawed Dietary Guidelines drive the diets of the military, school children, daycare centers, WIC programs, hospitals, prisons, retirement villages. And these recommendations are downloaded by foodservice and healthcare: physicians, dieticians, nutrition services, foodservice menu guides. They are driving how dairy and meat products are presented in restaurants, fast food chains and other menus of choice. They are driving the current FDA nutrition innovation strategy that is working on a symbol for “healthy” and looking at modernizing standards of identity to accomplish these nutritional goals that focus on lowfat / high carb diets.

“Meanwhile, it is the unsaturated fats, the new products in the food supply, that are negatively affecting us and those are all there… in the USDA feeding programs,” Teicholz pointed out.

Others in the panel discussion pointed to an anti-animal view, that cattle are bad for the planet in terms of climate change. These views perpetuate the current dietary guidelines. In fact, in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to introduce “sustainability” guidelines on what they deemed “healthy” for the planet into these guidelines, officially.

This is the ecology side that Lewandrowski addressed, showing urban food influencers how the concept of sustainability is being overtaken and systemized and how Northeast dairy farmers have a great story to tell that is being ignored, drowned-out.

“We have to think about how the shifts are occurring in the food system and manage those shifts. We can work together and make change happen,” said Mike Eby, articulating the message of National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), seeking to work with the system to manage farmers’ interests.

Allied Milk Producers helped sponsor this dairy panel, and Eby said that whether it is milk promotion through Allied, membership in NDPO, or supporting the buying and donating of dairy products through Dairy Pricing Association (DPA), it is important for people to participate.

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Mike Eby and John King brought Allied Milk Producers materials — and plenty of milk — to the NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Amos Zimmerman also had a booth for Dairy Pricing Association.

He gave examples of how Allied and DPA — funded by farmers — are reaching out to consumers, schools, urban communities with donations of product and a positive message.

“We need more people to get involved to fix these issues, and to create a system that supports its producers and stabilizes prices,” said Eby.

“We need to reach out and work together as urban and rural communities,” added Lewandrowski.

 

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Hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life attended the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Philadelphia, where networking from urban to rural looked at regional solutions.

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‘It’s getting real, and we’re not alone’

Unsure of future, Nissley family’s faith, community fill gap as dairy chapter closes with sale of 400 cows

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 16, 2018

Nissley0051.jpgMOUNT JOY, Pa. — Another rainy day. Another family selling their dairy herd. Sale day unfolded November 9, 2018 for the Nissley family here in Lancaster County — not unlike hundreds of other families this year, a trend not expected to end any time soon.

After 25 years of building from nothing to 850 dairy animals — and with the next generation involved in the dairy — the Nissleys wrestled with and made their tough decisions, saying there’s no looking back, although the timetable was not as they planned because the milk price fell again, and some options for transitioning into poultry came off the table.

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The Cattle Exchange put up the tent, and the community came out in-force to support the Nissley family and their sale Friday. Throughout the weekend, they heard from people who bought their cows, telling them they’ll take good care of them. While many went to new dairy homes, a third of the cows at dispersals like this one have been going straight to beef, despite culling a good 10% of the herd in the weeks before the sale.

They began culling hard the past few weeks and on Friday, Nov. 9 offered 330 remaining milk cows and over 80 springing heifers. The Cattle Exchange put up the tent, and the community came out at 10 a.m. to support the family and — as Mike Nissley put it — “watch a life’s work sell for peanuts.”

Breeding age heifers are being offered for sale privately and the young calves, for now, are still being raised on another farm as they would sell for very little in these trying times.

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As we talk outside the sale tent in the cold November rain, the cell phones in the pockets of Mike, Nancy (left) and Audrey are sounding off with outpourings of support. Know that the smiles through brushed back tears are because of the loving care of others, the family’s faith in a loving God, and the knowledge that they took great care of their cows.

Mike and his wife Nancy aren’t sure what the future looks like, but they are surely feeling the prayers, calls and texts of their friends, family, and community getting them through it.

Both Mike and his daughter Audrey Breneman have loved working with the cows, saying the sale felt like a funeral — “the death of a dream” — standing in the light rain outside the sale tent while the auctioneer chanted prices dipping into the $500s and $600s, even struggling shy of $1000 on a cow making 90 pounds of milk with a 54,000 SCC.

Later, a smile crossed his face, hearing the auctioneer stretch for $1700. “That one’s good to hear,” he says, as they headed back into the tent to watch springing and bred heifers sell.

While Daniel Brandt announced their number-one heifers, bids of $1600 and $1700 could be heard on some.

Nissley2011“It was a privilege to make the announcements on those 425 head, and I was impressed with the turnout of buyers, friends and neighbors as the tent was packed,” said Brandt after the sale. “The cows were in great condition and you could tell management was excellent.”

Mike gave Audrey the credit.

Before the rattle of cattle gates and the pitch of the auctioneer began, Audrey addressed the crowd with words that make the current dairy situation real for all who were there to hear them:

“We would like to welcome you to the Riverview Farms herd dispersal and thank you each for coming. Today feels a bit like attending my own funeral where we bury a piece of me, a piece of my family, and a piece of history, where we say goodbye to a lifestyle, to a way of life, to a lot of good times and many hardships as well. But I stand before you today proud to present to you a herd of cows that will do well no matter where they go.

 “This isn’t the end for these ladies, nor is it the end for us. I’ve had the privilege of managing the herd for the last 15 years and though we may not have done everything perfectly, we’ve done a pretty darn good job of developing and managing a set of cows that can be an asset to your herd. Everything being sold here today is up to date on vaccines. Any cows called pregnant has been rechecked in the last 10 days, Feet have been regularly maintained and udder health was always top priority. We culled hard over the last few weeks and have only the cream puffs left as the auctioneer Dave Rama says.

 “Though it feels like the end, it’s only the beginning of the next chapter, and we’re excited to see where God leads us next. Our milk inspector said once: it’s not a right to milk cows, it’s a privilege, and that’s exactly what this herd of cows was, a privilege.”

Her sister Ashlie’s husband Ryan Cobb offered a poignant prayer. The youngest grandchildren not in school, watched until lunchtime as the selling went through the afternoon, and the cattle were loaded onto trucks in the deepening rain at dusk.

As the sale progressed, a solemn reflection could be seen in the eyes of neighbors and peers. To see a local family sell a sizeable herd leaves everyone wondering ‘who’s next’ if prices don’t soon recover.

Nissley-Edits-21.jpg“It’s getting real,” says Mike. “Everyone is focused on survival, but we can see others are shook, not just for us, but because they are living it too.”

He has spent the last two years fighting to protect everything, including his family, “but now I surrender,” he says. “It feels like failure.”

There’s where he’s wrong. There are no failures here, except that the system is failing our farmers — and has been for quite some time — leaving good farmers, good dairymen and women, to believe it is they who have failed, when, in fact, they have almost without exception succeeded in every aspect of what they do.

Nancy is quick to point out that without Mike’s efforts and the family’s faith, “we wouldn’t have gotten this far, but now it’s time to see where God leads us next.”

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The dairy chapter closed last Friday for the Nissley family in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, but they are looking forward to where God leads them next. Mike and Nancy Nissley are flanked by daughter and herdswoman Audrey (left) and son-in-law and feed manager Matt Breneman and son Mason and daughter Ashlie (right) and son-in-law Ryan Cobb.

“Never have we felt the love and support like we have now from our community,” Audrey relates.

Nancy tells of a group of 20 who met at the farm for a meal the night before: “They prayed with us and rallied around us and supported us.”

Mike feels especially blessed. “We’ve had people just come over and sit in our kitchen with us,” he says. “People say ‘we’re here for you.’ People I never met are reaching out to tell me ‘you’re not alone, you’ll get through it, and there’s life after cows.’”

His bigger concern is that, “The public doesn’t fathom what the real struggles are out here. They have no idea where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it, the hours of work, of being tied to it 24/7/365. As farmers, we don’t have the resources or the time to correct all the misinformation when everyone believes what they see on social media.

“They go in a store and see milk still sold at $4.75/gal. The ice cream mix we buy for our ice cream machine costs the same as it did in 2014, when farm milk prices were much higher. DFA and Land O’Lakes report big annual profits. Where does the money go? Where did our basis go? It used to be $3.00 and now it’s barely 50 cents. There’s not one area to fix if the system is broken,” Mike says further.

“When you really look at this,” he says, “it’s amazing how little farms get for the service they provide, but if the public doesn’t know or understand that service, then they won’t expect the farmers to receive more and will actually make it harder for the farms to do with less.”

Nissley-Edits-25.jpgThe Riverview herd had good production and exceptional milk quality. Making around 25,000 pounds with SCC averaging below 80,000, Mike is “so proud of the great job Audrey has done. Without that quality, and what was left of the bonus, we would have had no basis at all,” he says, explaining that Audrey’s strict protocols and commitment to cow care, frequent bedding, and other cow comfort management — as well as a great team of employees — paid off in performance.

But at the same time, with all the extra hauling costs and marketing fees being deducted from the milk check, the quality bonus would add, but the subtractions would erode it.

He notes further that a milk surplus doesn’t seem to make sense when the bottom third — or more — of every herd that sells out is going straight to beef.

The Nissleys are emerging from the deepening uncertainty that all dairy farm families are living right now in a country where we have Federal Orders for milk marketing, and yet we are seeing an expedited disorderly death of dreams at kitchen tables where difficult decisions are being made.

Nissley2097Trying to stay afloat — and jockeying things around to make them work — “has been horrible,” said Nancy. She does the books for the farm and has a catering business.

Financial and accounting consultants advised holding off the sale for the bit of recovery that was expected by now. But it never materialized, and in fact, prices went backward.

“The question for us became ‘how much longer do we keep losing money hoping that things will get better?” Audrey suggests. “We had to start figuring our timeline.”

She has been the full-time herd manager here for 15 years since graduating from Delaware Valley University with a dairy science degree. Husband Matt has been the full-time feed and equipment maintenance manager.

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Cows have been part of Audrey Breneman’s life as long as she can remember. “They are part of who I am,” she says. Graduating from Del Val with a dairy science degree in 2003 and working full-time for 15 years as herdswoman at then 400-cow dairy farm started from scratch by her parents Mike and Nancy Nissley, have given her options as she moves forward after the sale of the family’s dairy herd.

She loved the cows. Their care was her passion, and the herd record and condition reflected this. But even the strongest dairy passion has limits when tested in a four-to-five-year-fire of downcycled prices.

“It’s too much work to be doing this for nothing,” she says.

With two young children of her own, Audrey could not envision doing the physical work, the long hours, with no sign of a future return that would allow her and her husband to invest in facilities, equipment and labor. How many years into the future could they keep up this pace, continually improving the herd and their milk quality, but feeling as though they are backpeddling financially?

These are the tough questions that the next generation is asking even as their parents wonder how to retain something for retirement, especially for those like Mike and Nancy who are still a way off from that.

We hear the experts say that the dairy exits are those who are older and deemed this to be “time,” or that the farms selling cows are doing so because their facilities have not been updated, or because they don’t have a next generation interested.

These oversimplified answers seek to appease. The truth is that in many cases — like this one — there is a next generation with a passion and skills for dairy farming.

The problem is the math. It doesn’t add up.

How are next generation dairy skills and passions to take hold when the market has become a flat-line non-volatile price? There are no peaks to go with the valleys because the valley has now become the price that corresponds directly with the lowest cost of production touted by industry sources and policymakers when talking about the nation’s largest consolidation herds in the west — and how they are dropping the bar on breakevens.

How are the next generation’s dairy passions to take hold when mailbox milk checks fall short of even Class III levels in much of the Northeast where farms sit within an afternoon’s drive of the major population centers

In Audrey’s 15 years as herd manager, there have been other downcycles, but they were cycles that included an upside to replenish bank accounts and hope. The prolonged length of the current downcycle brings serious doubt in the minds of young dairy producers about a sustainable future, but are the industry’s influencers, power centers and policymakers paying attention?

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Cows congregate in the two freestall barns and in the meadow by the road as a holding area during the Nissley family’s sale of the dairy herd Friday while the milking team milks for the last time in the nearby parlor.

Like many of her peers transitioning into family dairy businesses, the past four years have been draining. Much depends upon how far into a transition a next generation is, what resources they have through other diversified income streams in order to have the capital to invest in modernizing dairy facilities and equipment.

Without those capital investments, these challenging dairy markets combine with frustrating daily tasks when there is insufficient return to reinvest and finding and securing sufficient good labor also becomes an issue.

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As difficult as it is for the Nissley family, they are also concerned for their family of employees. The herd’s production and excellent milk quality are very much a team effort, they say, and the team of milkers pictured with Audrey (l-r) Manuel, Willie and Anselmo were busy Friday with the last milking at Riverview as cows came through the parlor all day ahead of their sale and transport.

The Nissleys are quick to point out that as hard as this has been for their family, it is also hard on their family of employees. They, too, are hurting.

“This is what I wanted to do all my life. It was our dream when we were married. I had a love for it and Nancy had a love for it,” says Mike, whose dairy dream was ignited by visits to his grandfather’s farm. Nancy grew up on a farm too, but the cows were sold in the 1970s.

The couple worked on dairy farms in the early years and saved their money. In 1994 they started dairying on their own farm with 60 cows. In September 2007, they moved to the Mount Joy location and began renovating the facilities for their growing herd.

Cows have been part of Audrey’s life as long as she can remember. “They are part of who I am,” she says, adding that she is glad to have her dairy science degree, along with the dairy work ethic and experience. “Here we are selling the cows, and I have opportunities to consider that I may not otherwise have. That degree is a piece of paper no one can take away from me.”

As the Nissleys closed this chapter Friday, they turn to what’s next. Nancy says she looks forward to being able to do things together they couldn’t do before while being tied to the dairy farm. As to what they will do on the farm, she says “God has not steered us wrong yet. Yes, it’s scary, but we also have faith that He is in this.”

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Mike and Nancy Nissley aren’t sure what the future looks like, but they say they are feeling the prayers, calls, texts and support of friends, family and community. That’s what is getting them through these days.

Mike has also gained new perspective. He observes that for any dairy family that has a future generation with a long-term goal, it makes sense to stay in and try to ride this out. “But if you have any question about that long-term goal, have the tough conversations about your options.

“It’s easy to lose perspective. For the last two years, I lost my perspective because I was so focused on survival. That’s what I take away from this, the importance of getting perspective. We are first generation farmers. We started with no cows 25 years ago and have 850 animals today. It’s hard to see it all dismantled and be worth nothing. But we’re not second-guessing our decision.”

Talking and praying with friends and acquaintances, Mike believes that, “We go through things, and we can’t let it drag us down but use it for God’s glory.”

Under the milky white November sky spilling rain like tears, he says that while the sale “feels like the death of a dream, I know I’ve been blessed to have shared this dream with my wife and to work alongside our daughter and to see the great things she was able to do with this herd, for as long as we could. I’m thankful for that.”

The sale started at 10 a.m. Over 400 cattle were loaded in the deepening rain at dusk as the dairy chapter closed at Riverview Farm, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and two generations of the Nissley family said there’s no looking back, only forward to where God leads them next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New PMMB consumer rep sees dairy crisis from outside-in

Dr. Carol Hardbarger is digging in and looking at all angles of PA dairy crisis.

Hardbarger9825 (1).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Sept. 7, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Solving problems, bridging gaps, making connections, bringing different interests together – these are skills Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D. has been using throughout her career in education. Today, she brings a unique combination of skills and background to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB). She was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in May and confirmed by the Senate in June.

“It is a tremendous honor for this to come at the end of my career, to be asked by Governor Wolf, to meet with Senators during confirmation, and to have this opportunity to do something for the state and the dairy industry I love,” Hardbarger said in a recent interview with Farmshine at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg.

She reflects on that call from the Governor’s office, telling her she had been nominated and asking if she would serve. She promptly began looking at the information on what the PMMB does.

“There is a crisis in the dairy industry,” says Dr. Hardbarger. “Oftentimes, when there is a problem, there is a solution that can be obvious to someone looking at the problem from the outside, to go back to what the objectives are of an organization or project at hand, looking at what has been done and why it hasn’t worked.”

She talks about the smaller steps that may be missed in trying to get to an end goal.

“That’s how my brain is wired,” the intense, but easy-to-talk-to Hardbarger says with a smile. She is a big-picture thinker with an obvious knack for process details.

In every job before retirement, she was brought in to help solve a problem and was able to deal successfully with those situations.

The dairy industry issues go well beyond the regulatory aspects of the PMMB. As the board’s consumer representative, Hardbarger seeks a broader role in marketing and advocacy that is refreshing.

She has rolled up her sleeves to dig in, confessing that she loves an intellectual challenge.

Her intention to spend one day a week at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg, quickly became two days a week and has now evolved into a full-time 40- to 50-hour work week.

Hardbarger serves on the board with dairy producers Jim Van Blarcom of Bradford County and Rob Barley (chair) of Lancaster County. They are also putting more time in their roles.

“That’s okay,” she says. “In order to accomplish what the Governor and Senators have communicated, that level of time and organization is necessary.”

She spends her time combing through records, meeting with government and industry entities, opening lines of communication, and being helpful to staff, which has been reduced in recent years by unfilled retirements.

Hardbarger sees external communication and a visible, accessible board on “advocacy things” as vital for developing the relationships that lead to solving problems.

She started the PMMB facebook page and twitter feed (@PAMilkBoard), as well as an email newsletter to legislators and industry that will eventually broaden to consumers. She also helped organize upcoming listening sessions. There is no need to pre-register or pre-submit comments, and the board urges those who can’t attend to send comments electronically to ra-pmmb@pa.gov.

The first listening session was held Sept. 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. in western Pennsylvania. The second will be Oct. 16 at Troy Fairgrounds in northern Pennsylvania, and another is being planned for southeastern Pennsylvania, potentially in Lebanon in November.

In the office with staff through the week, Hardbarger says Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is lucky to have these individuals, who are “highly capable and dedicated in jobs that are not easy.”

On the road forward, she sees a starting point is identifying where there is agreement.

“We have to start with what we all agree are issues to address. Otherwise, we are just putting on band-aids,” says Hardbarger, explaining that such a “holistic approach” is a way for deep-rooted past, present and future issues to be addressed for the long-term.

“I have some concern as I listen to the various constituency groups in the dairy industry — the farmers, the dealers, the retailers, the consumers — that when they speak, for the most part, I hear a lot of individual agenda,” she relates. “I believe strongly that we must be able to look at the agendas of all the groups and somehow integrate them to come up with solutions and prioritize them.”

When Hardbarger talks about “systemic solutions,” as she did in her Senate confirmation hearing, she means the longstanding parts of the system that are “built into how the industry operates.”

She gives the example that some are talking about “temporarily suspending” the minimum milk price, which would require changes in the law.

“We told the Senate that we want to look at some legislative items and see what makes sense for 2018 and 2019,” says Hardbarger.

Another example is some want the over-order premium to end.

“They believe it is not working the way it needs to,” she says. “We are not hearing many suggestions to raise the over-order premium. It will be interesting to see what comments and ideas we get at the upcoming listening sessions.”

The challenge is, according to Hardbarger, “how do we blend a holistic approach to a problem and how it developed systemically over the years with legislation and regulation that was implemented in a time very much different from today.”

She says the board is taking a neutral approach as they look at impacts.

“There are some misconceptions about what the board can and cannot do… so I hope the newsletter and outreach will develop good lines of communication with the legislature while correcting misconceptions and give us the ability to come back to the Assembly with information they need,” Hardbarger relates. “We obviously have the two laws we are responsible for with the associated regulations. But as our name implies, we are ‘marketing.’”

Through facebook and twitter, Hardbarger posts things she sees every day of interest to dairy. The newsletter will eventually include a calendar, an information piece from the chairman, questions and answers by staff, and the school nutrition aspect will be discussed.

Asked why the PMMB’s facebook and twitter profile picture is the PA Preferred logo, Hardbarger responded simply: “We want to promote Pennsylvania dairy products.”

She gave the example of a recent step — sending information to retailers and processors on how special milk promotions can legally be done, and suggesting such promotions be linked to PA Preferred milk.

Hardbarger says she wants PMMB’s communications to be an information clearinghouse between the industry and the legislature and ultimately the consumer.

In developing her role as consumer representative, she is already pursuing relationships with consumer groups and civic organizations to provide information about the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products and what the industry means to Pennsylvania and its communities.

For example, Hardbarger has already reached out to school nutrition officials with ideas about how milk and dairy are nutritionally assessed within the USDA meal profile for school breakfast, lunch and after school programs.

“If milk and dairy products were separated from the nutritional analysis… we may see schools offer more milk and dairy in the morning and after school programs without having to fit into a total nutrition analysis,” she suggests, adding that this idea is being provided to Representative G.T. Thompson, who sits on the Congressional workforce and education committee as well as to U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey.

“We are also communicating with USDA on this issue of getting whole milk (unflavored) in the schools along with now flavored 1% milk,” she said.

PMMB also sent official comments to the FDA docket to enforce and uphold milk’s standard of identity, and sent emails encouraging others to do so.

Hardbarger understands the nutritional tightrope schools walk to serve foods and milk that students enjoy and will consume. She is aware of the steady drumbeat of scientific studies showing dairy as a complete protein and complete source of vitamins and minerals children today are lacking, as well as the positive dietary revelations about whole milk and full fat dairy, especially for children.

She remembers her youth and spending much time on her grandparents’ dairy farm in northern Maryland, of making and consuming everything from homemade cottage cheese, butter and farmers cheese to whipped cream pies.

And she reminisces about doing just about every chore on that diversified farm, pointing out a decades-old framed photo of her son as a child milking one of four Jersey cows the family kept at that time.

While her career has been in education and technology, she is quick to point out that she has been around farmers and agriculture all of her life.

“There is a passion people have for this life, this business. And the dairy industry is vital to the economy of our state and a big part of what defines us, of who we are,” the proud mother and grandmother two-generations removed from dairy farming explains.

Since her first day on the PMMB in early July, Hardbarger has encountered “no real surprises” but a fuller understanding of issues that have swirled for years.

What surprises her is “the differences of opinion among constituent groups and their differing opinions about what needs to be done,” and seeing how far the industry is from dealing with differences over coffee and a handshake.

“Now we have groups with lawyers and CPAs and very strong individual agendas,” Hardbarger observes. “That has surprised me. I wasn’t aware of how fractured it is. This is an observation, not a criticism, because each constituency has a business interest to protect.”

From staff development to planning a staff retreat, to emailing staff for their ideas, Hardbarger says the momentum is “forward,” even though it’s “frustrating” to learn that state bureaucracies do not move as quickly as desired and there are regulations for literally everything.

“We can’t” are words she does not like to hear.

“There are very few things in this world that cannot be done. It may be that we need to do them in a different or particular way,” says Hardbarger. “We have to fix this dairy crisis, and we can, if we get all the players involved.”

Toward that end, Hardbarger says her next goal is to have the PMMB work with other agencies in forming a “rapid response team” for dairy.

“We hear stories about how a vital bridge can be fixed within 40 days… how the state government made it easier to deal with regulatory processes and provided waivers to make something happen, fast, because it was economically feasible to do that,” she says. “Pennsylvania has a Dairy Development plan… and we need the same ‘rapid response’ in dealing with our dairy crisis.”

Looking ahead, she is most hopeful that, “We can get a working group together of one or two representatives of each constituency group… and start hammering out solutions to our problems, to talk honestly face-to-face about the issues and come up with a few solutions that will work, and that my time here will be productive.”

Adds Hardbarger: “The most rewarding thing so far is the people I’ve met. There is nothing like coming into the office in the morning and seeing smiles and enthusiasm among the staff and having positive responses and feedback from Senate and House staff, to see us moving in a direction.”

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PHOTO CAPTION Hardbarger9825

Retired education and technology expert Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D., of Newport, talks about the dairy crisis and her role as the new consumer representative on the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board during a recent interview at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg. She says the Bonnie Mohr painting behind her is a favorite reminder of youthful days spent on her grandparents’ dairy farm. “It also reminds me that the number of dairy farms throughout Pennsylvania help define who we are as a state,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

Changing of the guard: New PMMB chairman sees increased fluid milk demand as job no. 1

RobBarley6539 (2).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, August 3, 2018

CONESTOGA, Pa. — The number one problem needing solved for dairy is bringing back fluid milk demand. Good things are happening in the dairy industry, which makes now the critical time to seek ideas, think outside the box, and be open to seeing — and seizing — opportunities.

That’s what came through during a recent interview with Rob Barley in his office at Star Rock Farms. The Lancaster County farmer and dairy producer is having a busy summer as the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB).

He is also the first dairy farmer to be appointed by USDA to the at-large general public seat on the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, which funds the Milk Processors Education Program (MilkPEP) for educating consumers and increasing fluid milk consumption.

“For way too long, producers have been struggling with profitability. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help bring back a positive atmosphere, that gives farmers hope, to know we have a product people want, that makes their lives better, while providing a return for our hard work,” says Barley. “In the long term, there are issues to address and to quantify, but in the short term, we want to find ways to increase fluid milk consumption because that solves a lot of our problems.”

In the farm business partnership with his brother and cousin, as well as in leadership roles through the years, what Barley says he enjoys most is “the people in this industry. They are good and hard working. I’ve been part of the dairy industry all my life, and I want Pennsylvania to remain a strong dairy state.”

July brought a changing of the guard and a fresh spirit of optimism and forward-looking energy to the PMMB with the June Senate confirmation of both Barley and Dr. Carol Hardbarger, who join Jim Van Blarcom on the three-member board.

While Barley wasn’t actively seeking the appointment, he was often been called upon to give a dairy producer’s point of view at House and Senate hearings over the past 10 years during his previous involvement with the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC).

“There was a clamor for change, and people were encouraging me to consider a PMMB appointment,” he says. People were vocal about it. Fellow dairy farmers asked Rob to get involved, and the support of Senators Scott Martin and Ryan Aument of Lancaster County, as well as the Senate leadership, was instrumental.

Once it became clear there were two openings for board terms that had expired without re-appointment, Barley had discussions with Pa. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and was honored when the Governor appointed him in May.

Now, just a month after being confirmed by the Senate, Barley says he is getting a feel for the PMMB’s regulatory function. At the same time, he wants the board to exercise a leadership role in the collective efforts underway to strengthen Pennsylvania dairy.

That process of idea-gathering began with Secretary Redding’s letter to the previous board in April, followed by the previous chairman, Luke Brubaker, holding several open hearings for public comment.

Barley wants to keep that momentum going. In addition to spending a day or two each week in Harrisburg with staff, he has been reaching out in person and by phone to talk with people from all facets of the dairy industry. He wants to understand the landscape of what’s being done now, and take-in ideas from others about what can be done going forward.

“We have opportunities, and a board and staff that really want to work on this. We’ve had discussions about many things, including how to support and encourage our schools where milk is concerned. Jim is really engaged in this and Carol has some ideas on the consumer side,” says Barley of his fellow PMMB board members. “Carol is a retired educator, and she really has a passion to get information to the consumers, and that’s in her purview as the PMMB member representing consumer interests.”

During the July 2 hearing and sunshine meeting, the first for Barley as PMMB chair, the enthusiasm was apparent among board, staff, industry participants and onlookers as the reorganized board is challenging everyone to bring forward ideas.

“We want all ideas on the table, whether or not they’ve been looked at before,” says Barley. “At this point, we’re focusing on putting anything on the table that will increase demand or bring it back. We’ve challenged the staff to bring out ideas, and they are very engaged.”

The PMMB is also engaging the Pa. Department of Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence and the PA Preferred program.

“There’s a limit to what we can do from a regulatory side, because our job as a board is fairly narrow, but we can show vocal support and leadership, and if we see something we can do that can help, we can consider it, or make suggestions to the legislature,” Barley explains.

In fact, the Senate Ag Committee encouraged Barley and Hardbarger to do just that during their confirmation hearing. Senators said they wanted to keep dialog going and see ‘marketing’ put back into the meaning of the Milk Marketing Board.

Barley sees real opportunity in Pennsylvania. And while the multi-part Pennsylvania Dairy Study shows the Keystone state as a good bet for new processing, he realizes new plants are costly, and attracting a new processing plant will take time.

“We are competing with other states that may have more incentives or more sites, but we have the milk and the infrastructure and the quality and the people, and we can overcome some of those challenges by looking at new opportunities with existing plants,” he suggests.

Discussions are already happening with existing fluid milk plants in the industry around ideas for expansion associated with re-tooling and innovation.

“The normal market for fluid milk is not expanding, but maybe we can offer other ways for consumers to enjoy milk,” says Barley. Working with businesses already located in Pennsylvania, with a commitment here, could be a less expensive and faster course of action to get accomplished versus attracting a new plant or new business to the state.

That’s how Barley thinks. He thinks in terms of opportunities and how to capitalize on them, and in these new roles, he is using those skills to strengthen an industry he cares about and bring that to the farm level.

“I’m excited to finally see some good things happening in dairy,” he cites the recent University of Texas Health Science Center published July 11 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It shows the clear health benefits of enjoying full-fat dairy products and whole milk. Barley is also is encouraged by FDA’s recent move to look at what actually is milk.

“Consumption of most dairy products is good, but we are losing fluid demand. With some of the good things beginning to happen, we have this opportunity right now,” says Barley. “All we ever heard for decades is that eggs are bad for us, and now they’re recommending two eggs a day. I see this happening with science supporting dairy.”

Barley looks forward to his first MilkPEP board meeting in Boston in August. Of that separate and voluntary, unpaid promotion board seat, he says “I’m looking to bring the farmer perspective.”

Of the PMMB chairmanship, Barley acknowledges that, “There are hurdles in the current system, and we’re finding out what the board can do, where we fit as the state looks at dairy processing and economic development and in what ways we can encourage innovation to increase demand.”

In both appointments, Barley is focused on fluid milk demand. Pure and simple, he considers it job number one. His bottom line is that doing the right thing is something no one should be afraid of.

“That’s really what I want to see — and what farmers want to see, and what everyone wants to see — is that fluid milk demand to increase. If everyone working on it can start bringing it back, that will help the profit margins the whole way through the chain,” he says. “If we continue to have fluid milk demand being destroyed, nothing will save our industry.”

As the board and staff engage with farmers, cooperatives, processors, retailers, and even consumers, Barley stresses that, “We want to hear as many ideas and meet with as many folks as possible. There’s more agreement in this industry than most people think.”

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RobBarley photo caption

Rob Barley at Star Rock Farms, where he is in partnership with his brother Tom and cousin Abe in the diversified dairy, crop and livestock business. As the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB), and first dairy farmer recently appointed to an at-large seat on the National Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Board, he hopes to help make fluid milk demand job number one. “That’s really what I want to see — and what farmers want to see, and what everyone wants to see — is that fluid milk demand to increase. If everyone working on it can start bringing it back, that will help the profit margins the whole way through the chain. If we continue to have fluid milk demand being destroyed, nothing will save our industry.” Photo by Sherry Bunting

A story interview with the new PMMB consumer representative, Dr. Carol Hardbarger, appears in Friday’s Sept. 7 Farmshine, beginning on page 3. This one will also be posted at this blog in the future.

Win, win and win: Turning tough challenges into abundant goodness

Philabundance partners with local dairy farms to bring Abundantly Good dairy foods to those in need.

By Sherry Bunting as published in July 20 Farmshine

PEACH BOTTOM, Pa. — Great ideas often come wrapped in tough challenges.

For Lancaster County dairy farms and Philabundance — the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization with a 30-year history of rescuing and upcycling food — the urban and rural challenges of hunger, food waste and price-depressing surpluses have converged under the new ‘Abundantly Good’ business model and brand.

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The folks at Philabundance are enthusiastic about working with Lancaster County dairy farms, like Cedar Dream(pictured) near Peach Bottom.

It’s mid-morning in July, and the day’s first milking and chores are done at Cedar Dream Farm. The 53 registered Holstein cows on this southern Lancaster County dairy farm lay comfortably chewing cud in the fan-cooled tiestall barn.

They will be turned out to pasture in the cooler overnight temperatures after the evening milking. Tended by Abner Stoltzfus, his wife Rebecca and the older of their eight children, the herd produces an RHA of 24,000M 3.9F 3.3P with somatic cell counts between 100 and 130,000. Their cleanliness and comfort tell the story.

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Next to the spotless and kosher-approved processing room, the chiller holds not only finished products but also clean, bright white pails of fruit puree for yogurts. I was attracted to the in-season black raspberry!

Before looking in again on the cows and heading to the fields, Stoltzfus takes time to show me the dairy processing room and the chiller full of consumer-ready milk and yogurt in the small creamery built a little over a year ago on the farm.

He offers a pint of the strawberry drinkable yogurt. Creamy, with just the tiniest hint of color from the strawberry puree. It had all the farm-fresh flavor I was thirsting for. Yum.

We talk about how co-packing for Philabundance and Sunset Farms helped launch the Cedar Dream creamery last spring.

What began for Philabundance in the past few years — utilizing PASS (PA Ag Surplus System) funds from the Pa. Department of Agriculture to reclaim surplus milk and pay the processing, packaging and transportation to turn it into cheese — is now expanding with the funding from the new retail brand, according to Monika Crosby, assistant manager of food acquisition for Philabundance.

To increase their reach, Philabundance launched the Abundantly Good brand a year ago, focusing primarily on specialty cheeses. For each pound of cheese sold through retail partners, $1.00 is returned — totaling over $9,000 so far — to buy even more surplus milk to make even more cheese, and now yogurt, for the food banks, soup kitchens, Fresh For All farm markets for eligible families, and other Philabundance clients and programs.

Crosby shares her concern about the 40% of food that is wasted yearly in the U.S., while 1 in 5 Philadelphians don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

She grew up the daughter of a dairy farmer in the New York Finger Lakes Region. When her father met Amos Zimmerman of Dairy Pricing Association during a meeting in New York, the connection between Philabundance and Lancaster County dairy farms followed.

“There is an overabundance of perfectly good milk, and yet so much of it has to be thrown out. So, we developed a business plan with Sunset Farms to utilize surplus milk to create cheese and yogurt,” Crosby says, explaining that the surplus milk goes to Sunset Farms in Ronks for cheesemaking and butter. Excess skim from butter-making goes to Cedar Dream.

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Abner Stoltzfus figures he’s made 8,000 pints of drinkable yogurt, with over half of it vanilla flavored, using surplus skim milk for Philabundance, and half from his farm’s own milk as Cedar Dream strawberry flavored drinkable yogurt (left) for the retailers selling Cedar Dream whole milk and whole chocolate milk (right). He also does other sizes, including 6-oz. bottles of milk and drinkable yogurt as well as cup-yogurt.

At Cedar Dream, the skim milk is heated to 108 degrees in the new vat pasteurizer. Yogurt cultures are added, and 12 hours later, flavoring is added. The process turns a pound of surplus skim milk into a pint of nutritious, full-bodied and flavorful drinkable yogurt — with nearly 4000 pints of vanilla made for Philabundance families since April.

This journey really began in the spring of 2017, when Philabundance used PASS funds to help divert 12 loads of surplus milk destined to be dumped. Local cheesemakers turned this into 66,000 pounds of natural, high-quality cheese for hungry Pennsylvanians, according to Crosby.

From that experience, the idea for the Abundantly Good brand was born during collaborations between Philabundance and its partners, including the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Chester County Food Bank, as well as the Pennsylvania dairy industry.

“We saw the great need for more high-quality dairy products… and decided to develop the Abundantly Good program to help fund our purchases of more dairy products for our community,” says Crosby.

The Abundantly Good specialty cheeses are sold to retailers like Di Bruno Brothers, Riverwards Produce, The Common Market and Third Wheel Cheese Co.

“We jumped at the chance to partner with Philabundance by selling Abundantly Good cheese, as it gave us the chance to sell something that tastes good and does good at the same time,” said Emilio Mignucci, vice president of Di Bruno Bros. in a press release. The specialty food retailer piloted the concept by carrying five varieties.

As they saw success with cheese, Philabundance went back to their farmers and learned there was excess skim milk from butter production.

“We determined that yogurt would be both delicious and nutritious for our families in need,” Crosby adds.

Stoltzfus says most of what his creamery does right now is co-packing for Philabundance, Chester County Food Bank and Sunset Farms. But he also brings a bit of his own herd’s milk in to package whole milk, whole chocolate milk, cup yogurt and drinkable yogurt under the Cedar Dream brand.

“They say it takes a full year to get started into on-farm processing. That’s about right,” says Stoltzfus, thankful for the opportunity to co-pack while he begins developing and marketing his own products. They are seeing a slow and steady increase by word of mouth in a few small local markets like the Solanco Market and East Drumore Foods.

“I want to provide consumers with a local Pennsylvania dairy product, fresh off the farm, and be happy with the product I produce,” he explains, emphasizing that this is not something that happens overnight. “I knew to be careful and not get too aggressive too fast. I want to take one step at a time, so I don’t fall.”

A former board member of Dairy Pricing Association, Stoltzfus understands the double-challenge of dairy excess pressuring farm milk prices and the plight of food-insecure families, so he was more than happy to do something that is beneficial for others.

“We have the facility to do this and are gladly doing it,” he says. “I figured we’d be focusing more on cup yogurt, but after sitting down with Philabundance, we started making the drinkable yogurt, and they seemed to really like that.”

Set up to bottle 400 to 500 pints per hour, he does about 500 to 600 pints per week with some weeks up to 3000 pints, but it’s the prep and everything else associated with having a creamery that takes time.

“I see the way things are going, the uncertainty, and I knew we better figure something out to keep us going,” he reflects.

While he likes being involved on the processing side, and sees more people exploring this option to help save smaller family farms, he’s quick to point out: “It does take some attention away from the farm and the cows.”

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Copacking helps Cedar Dream creamery get established

He knows he needs to balance his time and growth, even though he’d love to take milk from every dairy farm that has contacted him as new market uncertainties emerge in his community, not just for independent producers, but also co-op members around how Sunday milk pickups are handled.

“I would love to say yes to everyone, but I am just getting started,” says Stoltzfus. “I can’t grow too fast ahead of myself. Getting established is very important.”

He is grateful to those who are helping along the way, including his lender, Ephrata National Bank, for seeing the vision in the creamery investment.

For Philabundance, it’s dairies like Sunset Farms and Cedar Dream that are a big part of the triple-bottom-line they seek with the Abundantly Good brand, according to Elizabeth Sanon, assistant procurement manager.

“This project has enabled us to provide quality dairy products that far surpass anything we’ve been able to offer to our families previously,” she says. “We are not only combating the need for better access to healthier foods… but are reducing unnecessary waste of agricultural products and creating an innovative new revenue stream for local farmers.”

Under the farmer-mantra of ‘leaving this place better than we found it,’ Sanon says that while the U.S. continues to lose family farms at a rapid rate, the number of food-insecure people continues to rise. “With Abundantly Good, we are able to create solutions within the community to address these problems.”

The hope is for the Abundantly Good brand to continue to grow in retailers and product lines to ultimately fund the free distribution of dairy products to those in need on a year-round basis.

To learn more about Philabundance, including its Fresh for All program and the Uplift and Upcycle partnerships, visit https://www.philabundance.org  or contact Kait Bowdler, deputy director of sustainability at sustainability@philabundance.org.

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Abner and Rebecca Stoltzfus and their children milk and care for 53 registered Holstein cows and their replacement heifers. Cows spend the hot days in the fan-cooled tiestall barn and are on pasture in the cooler temperatures after the evening milking. They produce a 24,000-pound herd average with 3.9 fat, 3.3 protein.

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‘Faith and dairy passion’ fuel her humble work from Pennsylvania to Bolivia

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Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding congratulates Karen Hawbaker, 2018 Distinguished Dairywoman. 

Karen’s humble courage and work at her own Warm Springs Dairy as well as the dairy at Andrea’s Homes of Hope and Joy in Bolivia through of Love In Action Ministries is an inspiration.

This is a small world. I met Karen six months after meeting my daughter-in-law Vanessa’s father who put me in touch with his brother David Rice in Nebraska for a stop to visit Prairieland Dairy on my working travels west. David told me about having volunteered in the project to build a dairy at the orphanage in Bolivia. He put me in touch with LIAM, and six months later, back in Pennsylvania where it all started, I met Karen and other project members to do this Nov. 27, 2015 Cover story in Farmshine, which was later reprinted in additional publications.

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A humble and honored Karen Hawbaker showed her faith and gratefulness as she was presented the 2018 Pennsylvania Distinguished Dairy Woman Award by the Pa. Dairymen’s Association, Center for Dairy Excellence and Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania during the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit here at the Penn Stater Conference Center Feb. 21.

“Without God’s strength, provision and blessing, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today,” said Hawbaker, thanking also her crew at Warm Springs Dairy, where she owns and operates the 180 cow dairy she and her late husband Rodney started in 1988 in Franklin County.

The award recognizes a dairy woman who has distinguished herself in her leadership and service to the dairy industry, both on the farm or to the broader industry and community.

Warm Springs Dairy has been recognized for numerous production awards, consistently being in the top DHIA herds for production and milk quality.

Since Rodney’s passing in 2011 from a farming accident, Karen has continued to operate the business with her dedicated employees and a focus on the cows, with custom operators doing most of the field work.

Through Love in Action Ministries (LIAM), Karen has been able to share her dairy passion and her faith and has been instrumental in carrying on her husband’s legacy in helping LIAM establish a dairy farm at Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy, an orphanage in Bolivia. 

“God instilled in me a passion and love for the work in this dairy industry both here and in Bolivia and wherever He may lead me,” said Karen when asked why she chooses this 3 a.m. work schedule with cows and all that goes with it. “God has been good, and He has brought good people into my life at the farm.”

The LIAM dairy project was started by Rodney as a plan to build a dairy in support of the orphanage. After planning the farm, Rod and Karen led fundraisers to build the dairy and then traveled to Bolivia in 2009 for the start of the barn, traveling there three other times before Rod passed away in 2011.

The project was delayed at that point, but cows arrived in the fall of 2014 and are doing well, with the farm providing milk and vocation for the children who live there.

Karen has served on the LIAM board and its dairy committee and loves the opportunities to volunteer her time to work with the farm in Bolivia. In addition to her involvement with LIAM, Karen is a member of Antrim Brethren in Christ Church where she teaches fourth grade Sunday school, leads a grief support group and helps with audio visual ministry every other month.

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Day 11: In the hope and restoration business

12 Days of Christmas… with a twist

Day 11: “He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future… God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others.”– David Abel.   Read on to learn how restoration and hope bring together The Star Barn, Ironstone Ranch and Brittany’s Hope

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, December 5, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — If you’ve traveled from anywhere in the U.S. to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you’ve no doubt passed The Star Barn — one of the most painted and photographed barns in the U.S. This historic landmark has languished and deteriorated for years in a quest for funds for a proper restoration of the icon from the 1800s.

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Enter David and Tierney Abel of nearby DAS Companies Inc. who have purchased The Star Barn and will use their own money — no grants or tax dollars — to restore it all, after first moving it to their Ironstone Ranch, 10 miles away as the crow flies in Elizabethtown, Pa.

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David and Tierney Abel (left) and Mark and Jamie Shoemaker

The former dairy farm, turned fruit farm, turned Christmas tree farm, is now an “events with a purpose” reception venue that will be the new home for all nine buildings of the original John Motter Star Barn — including a rebirthed replica of the original farm house, pond and springhouse that were removed in the early 1970s when Route 283 was built right through the property on which they sat.

My connection to this story began when our middle son Ryan Bunting married our new daughter-in-law Vanessa Rice — daughter of Vernon and Jeanette Rice of Strasburg — at Ironstone Ranch on October 12, 2015. The bride and her attendants prepared for the big event in the original 1812 farmhouse the Abels first restored on the 150-acre farm.

The wedding was in the orchard with two roaming miniature donkeys photo-bombing the ceremony. IMG_0730xAnd the reception was held in the beautifully restored 1860 pine and brick barn original to the premises. While in the orchard doing family portraits between the wedding and reception, I learned from my 95-year-old grandmother Dorothy Jacobs, who still lives just across the street from the Ironstone Ranch at the edge of town, that my grandfather Bernard “Ace” Jacobs, a friend of an earlier owner, hunted there every year. Yes, it’s a small world.

As the wedding party, which included 12 children — the largest number of children ever in the four years of 80 weddings per year at Ironstone — prepared for their grand entrance, the farm’s manager Mark Shoemaker told wedding guests about Ironstone Ranch and its mission.

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Children are at the center of Brittany’s Hope Foundation, which receives all net profits from Ironstone Ranch. These 12 children in the Bunting-Rice wedding party in October received the royal treatment from the folks who run the reception venue and ranch. In fact, chief operating officer Mark Shoemaker handed a cowboy hat to Connor Messner, 6, (my grandson) for instant confidence as he escorted Lydia Rice, 8, as the lead-off pair in the reception at the 1860 pine barn restored on the premises.

With a skeleton crew of seven full time and two part time employees, a stable of carriage and pleasure-riding horses, a few Longhorn cattle and the mascot miniature donkeys along with 250 acres of grazing, hay ground and wooded riding paths, 100% of the net profits from weddings, corporate events, and other meetings and entertainment are funneled into Brittany’s Hope Foundation.

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Named for the daughter the Abels lost in a car accident 16 years ago, Brittany’s Hope facilitates adoptions of primarily special needs children from around the world and also funds orphanages in many locations, especially Viet Nam, Kenya and Ethiopia. To-date, Brittany’s Hope has facilitated over 900 adoptions. David and Tierney, themselves, have 17 children in their blended family, 12 of them adopted.

So what has this to do with The Star Barn? Plenty.

“My wife saw The Star Barn and reached out to the preservationists,” said David. “We’ve evolved into barn chasers. I thought, if this goes through (buying The Star Barn), God definitely has a plan for it.”

There were plenty of hoops to jump through from the purchase and permits to the logistics of moving, and even getting permission to keep The Star Barn on the historical registry at its new location.

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The Ironstone Ranch is currently completing the restoration of an old 1812 barn moved there from nearby Bainbridge.

 

At the DAS Company warehouse, home of Stewardship Missions a few miles away, the dismantled iconic 65-feet-tall, post-and-beam 1819 antique barn with its Cathedral architecture that sat for centuries along what is now Fruitville Pike near downtown Lancaster, lies bound in cataloged clusters under a coverall waiting its turn for restoration at Ironstone Ranch.

But the focus right now is The Star Barn. The work to bring the 9-building complex to its new home for restoration began October 27, when the cupolas came down, the main cupola weighing 13,900 pounds! They are being restored to their former glory, with the main cupola expected to take 18 months, including hand-forging of new weather vanes as they were in the 1800s by craftsmen in Rhode Island.

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This 13,500-lb cupola is the distinctive main cupola of The Star Barn and will take 18 months to restore, including the hand-forged weather vanes being recreated in Rhode Island to their original 1800s design.

Later this year or early in 2016, the barn itself will be moved to Ironstone Ranch. Piece by piece, it will be taken down and cataloged, then pegged together and raised manually with gin poles just as they did in the 1800s. Tickets for this event are expected to be available on a limited basis for those who want to see The Star Barn raising.

This story gets even more interesting.

David Abel explains how The Star Barn cupolas have the fleur-de-lis pattern, representing the Trinity and the sovereignty of God over every building. Furthermore, the stars on the barn were placed there as a sign of hope for the nation after the Civil War.

“God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others,” he said.

The nine buildings of The Star Barn complex will be placed as in their original setting with the three-fold purpose of being a working farm, an event venue raising funds for Brittany’s Hope, and a living parable for visitors to visualize many of the agriculture-based parables of Jesus.

“He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future,” David explained. “Shepherds would know when a lamb is born. The living parables will help people understand why shepherds know and search for the Lamb. There are a vast number of parables, and we are compiling them all. So often, Jesus used agriculture to teach us God’s beautiful truths. We want to bring that to life, and The Star Barn will be a key part of that.”

It will include a thrashing floor, oxen, sheep and goats, a vineyard and 1800 time-period antique farming equipment the Abels have begun to accumulate for working the land.

“People will see in the thrashing floor the separation of wheat and chaff. In the vineyard, they will see the unpruned vine growing wild and beautiful onto itself with no fruit, and by contrast, the vine pruned by the Master’s hand beside it bearing fruit,” David explained. “We’re doing this for a purpose. People will come to see it and learn why Jesus used farming, trees, stones, vines, livestock, in His parables. We can share this gift and tell the story. Everything we do with the restorations must be God-honoring.”

Not to mention, when all the barns they are in the midst of restoring are completed, Ironstone Ranch will become a destination where visitors can see 1800s German agriculture practices and architecture with historical and biblical significance.

The Abels anticipate the process of restoring the entire Star Barn complex to take two years, including the re-creation of the original pond, farmhouse and springhouse. For these portions of the complex, they will use pictures and time-period catalogs to make replicas of the original structures. The house will become a 12-bedroom structure to provide lodging for special events.

Mark Shoemaker and his wife Jamie once operated a hay and horse farm in Schuylkill County. Today, they manage theIronstone Ranch.

“When Mark and Jamie came into our life, they made it their goal to make the property beautiful. It’s ours to share with others. God put us together and they’ve put their heart and soul into this,” said Tierney.

“God is weaving a tapestry here,” David added as they talked about their plans for the ranch, the Star Barn and Brittany’s Hope. While the Ironstone Ranch is set up as a for-profit corporation, all profit after operating costs goes to the non-profit Brittany’s Hope Foundation, created in January 2000 for the purpose of advocating for orphaned special needs children longing for the love of a family.

In starting Brittany’s Hope, the Abels reflected on their daughter’s dream of helping children with special needs “come home to loving families.”

“Out of death, comes life,” said Tierney. “The gift of Brittany’s life has not ended. Through this foundation, she touches so many lives.”

And there’s more in store…

At the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, Ironstone Ranch will have a booth near the butter sculpture where they will display The Star Barn 1/12th scale model layout for the “living parables” farm.

“God gives each of us gifts, and one of David’s is vision,” said Tierney.

“We see what can be accomplished when we cooperate with God in the unfolding of His vision as it grows and is unveiled and then confirmed by circumstances and people along the way,” David added with a smile. “We’re just walking out the vision He has for us here.”

David Abel started DAS Companies in the late 1970s with $200 selling stereos and CB’s at Lancaster County’s Roots and Green Dragon markets from the back of his father’s station wagon and the garage of his grandmother’s home. Today, DAS Companies is a global supply chain with many lines of products in truck stops all over the country. The business fuels the stewardship and mission they have undertaken.

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Horses graze in mid-November at Ironstone Ranch. This hayground will become the new home for all 9 buildings of the original Star Barn. It will remain on the National Registry of Historic Places at its new location, which has its own historical significance. During the Civil War, this was a staging area for troops, and after the war, the Liberty Bell traversed the land on its way back to Philadelphia from Harrisburg, as did President Lincoln’s funeral train as it passed between the two cities.

Ironstone1100xMichael Kleinhans, project manager, talks about The Star Barn’s future at Ironstone Ranch and the booth near the butter sculpture at the 100th Pa. Farm Show in January where a scale model of the plans for the 9-building Star Barn relocation, restoration and “living parables” farm will be on display. Photo by Sherry Bunting

A Christmas event at Ironstone December 5 raised thousands for Brittany’s Hope and the Water Street Rescue Mission. Stay tuned for more on The Star Barn from the 100th Farm Show in January.