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.

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

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

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine May 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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