I logged in to Facebook today on my laptop and found a ton of notifications. After a few clicks, I saw photos of our family farm being demolished. I knew it was happening; my mom had even sent photos a few days ago. But I had mostly closed off my thoughts and emotions around it because I knew it would hit me hard if I didn’t. What brought me to tears now, though, were not the photos themselves. It was the people who shared them and commented on them, making me realize that the closing and sale of our family farm stirred up such strong emotion in more than just my immediate family. A community had been built around our farm, and its cornerstone had just been torn down.
Dairy farming is unique in that it traditionally requires a constant human presence in order to milk and care for the cows. Dairy farmers are always on call. It is a way of life for the entire family, not just the farmer. “I know a guy” is the perfect explanation for the contact list in any farmer’s phone, and dairy is no exception. Building a network of resources and support is the only way to keep it operating.
My dad’s foreman and dear friend for over 30 years raised his family on our farm, too. His children and my siblings and I all shared chores like feeding calves and cleaning out water troughs as soon as we could walk. One of his daughters shared the photos, explaining that her best memories of her childhood and her dad, who is now in heaven, happened right there on our farm. It was her farm, too.
Our family farm was surrounded by homes. Backyards flanked most sides of our pastures. I can recall many occasions knocking on neighbors’ doors when a fence was down and cows were out. Next thing you know, what seemed like the whole neighborhood would be out looking and helping us to round them up. It was their farm, too.
A friend of one of my brothers shared the photos. He helped build many fence lines and worked long hours sweating in those pastures. When the hurricanes and tornados destroyed our barns, he showed up and volunteered to help rebuild them. It was his farm, too.
Our calving barn was right alongside the road. Every day, a car would be pulled over and watching the birth of new life. Sometimes it was a parent with their children; sometimes they were alone. The beauty and miracle were worth pulling over for, no matter how many times they’d witnessed it before. It was their farm, too.
The stories and memories these photos elicited in those that saw them and shared them are so touching. I wish I could know them all. It’s kind of like a eulogy for our farm. I am not alone in my heartbreak. The parlor may no longer be standing, and the barns may have been torn down, but hearing how our family’s livelihood impacted and touched so many is humbling and fills my heart. Our family may not have a dairy farm anymore, but we have a devoted community reminiscing right alongside us.
(Author’s Note: The closure of our farm is truly bittersweet. My parents have earned their retirement. I’m grateful they chose dairy as a way of life.)
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."