Growing up in the 1980s on my family's dairy farm in central Oregon, I really was unaware of the farm crisis. The recession spiraled out of control; it affected many farms, and it strained ours.
Back then many couldn't imagine a future on the farm. But, somehow, many of us were able to persevere, including Bob and Michelle Davidson. My late parents were always frugal; hard times forced them to make more out of less.
Despite smaller farm sizes and less debt, farming in the 1980s reminds me of farming right now. The financial strain and mountains of stress remain the same. Farmers continue to be forced to do more with less.
This was no different for Pleasant Ridge Dairy, my childhood farm in Bend, Oregon. There was not a lot of extra money on the table, but really, we worked as a team unit. And as a child, I never saw the farm stress upset our family life.
We didn't have a lot of extras, but my parents, somehow through the grace of God or the art of creativity, made us feel like we had all that we needed. Every meal was farm-to-fork, as we ate what my mother raised in the garden and the beef my father had butchered on the farm. Clothes were bought at second-hand stores and hand-me-downs continued until they were beyond mending. We realized firsthand that very little is needed to make a happy life.
Highlights included playing a game of pick-up in the front yard before milking cows in the evening, sharing a Popsicle with the family dog (one lick for you, one lick for me; we were definitely not afraid of germs), and sales reps staying for dinner. We were proud to be a part of 4-H and FFA clubs, and so proud to be called a Davidson. Because, back then, central Oregon was much smaller than it is today, and everyone knew you or knew one of your siblings. Farm families, like my childhood Davidson family, were the fabric of America.
When the strain of your farm is draining you, pause, pick up a baseball bat, and find some kids for a quick game. Or sit on the front porch, enjoy a Popsicle, and realize that all that we need is those who fill our hearts with love.
Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.