April 9 2020 08:00 AM

What do you say when the whole dairy industry is grieving?

On April 10, 1995, my brother, Pat, was killed in a car accident, leaving behind a wife and two young children. His son, Josh (pictured far right), graduated from my alma mater (and his grandfather's), Oregon State University. He and his wife, Teague, were married in 2018 and are expecting their first child in July. This all sheds a light on the fact that after the darkest of days, better days follow.

My brother, Pat, died 25 years ago on April 10, 1995, and to say he is missed would be a huge understatement. Pat was killed driving a water truck, for an off-the-farm job, due to three faulty brakes. He was killed instantly and left behind a wife and two small children who were 4 and 2. I vividly remember that at his funeral, many friends and family offered their condolences, along with casseroles and hams, hugs and tissues, cards, and reminiscing of the good ol' days.

A week after my brother died, a family friend walked past me in the grocery store, staring and saying nothing in return. He did not attend Pat's funeral or send a card. I remember feeling very lonely from that experience. Years later, I ran into that person and he apologized, saying, “I didn’t know what to say.”

Not knowing how to write this blog post, I find myself in that same position. I feel like I need to offer my condolences and a hug, and to reminisce of the better days for everyone in the dairy industry. Listen, friends, it’s super hard to know what words to say when a person grieves, but when the whole world grieves, what do you say then?

I don't really know, but from my previous losses in life — my brother, my mother, my father, and then my childhood farm, I know better than to walk by without saying anything.

And what I have been reminding myself is that while God didn't promise any of us an easy life, He did promise us a life that would be worthwhile. And, this is what I know. Agriculture is essential. I wholeheartedly agree with what U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sunny Perdue, said, "Sure, seeing empty shelves across America is unsettling, but what would be worse is seeing empty barns and fields across America."

The words I can offer you all in this time of grievance is the promise in Easter Sunday. I understand that this isn't the April we had imagined, but it is the April we have been given. This Holy Week is a time for spiritual renewal and growth. We are all in this place of uncertainty, and it is lonely and frightening. We cannot focus on what was and must focus on what will be. Eventually, there will be good days ahead.

We must continue to dig deep and plow ahead and have faith that better days will come. The world needs farmers now more than ever before. I understand the pressure on America’s dairy farmers makes us feel like we are ready to bust — mentally, physically, and literally — as our minds, our bodies, and our checkbooks can only withstand so much pressure.

But, we can either sit back and watch the pot boil or have faith that with time, infused with our sure will and dedication to care for our cattle, land, and family, that better days will come. This Holy Week, let’s all believe the latter will be true.


Karen Bohnert

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.

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