It seems like the world is at a standstill, but the view outside my farmhouse in East Moline, Ill., tells a different story. Before the sun beams in my windows, I hear the diesel engines, roaring to start another day and hustling to help feed a desperate nation.
Inside my home, my children are sleeping in, snuggled in their beds. It’s a far cry from what their mornings before this pandemic allowed. Now the days are longer, so rest is needed. They start their days later, with schoolwork in the morning, and doing chores and working in the afternoons, sometimes into the evenings. We have somehow managed to hit a groove, and after much resistance to the pandemic, routines have set in.
Listen, I see that farm kids take on great burdens. They see firsthand the difficulty of farming. It’s a far different view from what the media portrays, and farm children get a front row view to the day-in and day-out, year-after-year struggle. They see the challenge of getting the crops in — and getting them out in the fall. They see the struggle to find help — good, dependable help. This is where they realize where they fit in, by lending a helping hand.
Farm kids hear their parents talk nonstop about milk prices and the line of credit and all those bills —and they vividly remember the excitement in their parents' voices late last year; everyone thought things were "starting to turn around."
Farm girl, I remember when you came to say goodnight one evening while your father was still in the barn, and I was working in the office, gathering paperwork to apply for the PPP loan. You asked questions: Do we have to pay it back? How do we qualify and others don't? It made me realize that you are indeed growing up. I could tell, as we talked, you wondered where you fit in.
But sweet girl, you always fit in. Farm or no farm. You fit into the family we have. I'm clinging to hope that the farm will continue. But if for some reason, if it doesn't, when and if that times ever comes, you always have a place at the table. More importantly, you always have a place in our hearts.
As many are stuck at home, going stir-crazy, farmers are far from the idle speed the rest of the nation sits in. They are like your father, lacing their boots at 5 a.m., feeding the cows first, then heading to the field by 10 a.m., happy that this year’s weather is far different and far better than last, making them put in an eight-hour day by lunchtime. They eat all their meals in the cab of a tractor and only break long enough to refuel for another eight-hour stretch.
Yes, life has changed tenfold over the last eight weeks, but farmers are still full speed ahead, always driven to make the right choices to care for their family, land, and cattle. Farm kids are far from a burden; in fact, they have become essential help to successfully keep farms going this time of year.
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.