At first glance, this photo appears to be a sunset somewhere in the western United States. In fact, I shot this sunset from my backyard in Holmes County, Ohio. From there, I have a clear view of the pastured hillside on our Amish neighbor’s farm. The windmill, bare trees and fencerow created a wonderful silhouette against the warm, whispery clouds of the multi-hued sunset.
I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I was on my way to a meeting when I passed through Walnut Creek, one of the oldest settlements in Holmes County, Ohio. The morning sun was straining to filter through on-rushing clouds, part of a cold front bringing in some welcomed rain.
When I stopped to take a photo of one scene, I saw this one, the mirror reflection of this nicely kept farm, known as the Jonas Stutzman farm. An official historical marker notes that Stutzman was the first white settler in the eastern section of the county, arriving from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 1809.
The details in this photo, coupled with the farmstead’s history, made “Morning reflections” my Photo of the Week.
As a teenager, Haun knew exactly what he wanted to do. With timely guidance and self-determination, he has more than achieved his goal. Not bad for someone yet to turn 40 years old.
Haun is actually Lieutenant Richard Haun of the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office. He has been with the sheriff’s office for 24 years. Do the math and the answer becomes apparent. Haun began his law enforcement career at that tender age of 15.
It really all began with some public service modeling by his mother and encouragement from a friend that got Haun thinking about life in law enforcement.
His mother served as an emergency medical technician, and a friend encouraged him to join the Boy Scouts of America troop that served as Explorers with the sheriff’s department.
“I always wanted to be a deputy,” Haun said. “That’s why I joined the Boy Scouts law enforcement Explorers Club. That’s how I got started and I’ve been here ever since.”
One assignment of the Explorers was to be a presence at the Holmes County Fair. He began making his rounds there in 1986 and hasn’t missed a fair since then.
“Once I got into the Explorers,” Haun related, “that’s when it clicked for me.”
Born in Millersburg, Haun grew up in Killbuck and graduated West Holmes High School in 1989. With his sights set on a career in law enforcement, Haun didn’t have much social life as a teen.
“I would go to school during the day,” Haun said, “then attend the police academy in Coshocton in the evening.” Haun said those classes ran from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We even had some classes on Saturday,” Haun said. “I couldn’t even attend my senior prom because I had to qualify on the firearms range.”
Haun lives in Millersburg with his wife, Susan, and two sons. The Hauns have been married for 17 years.
Haun started as a reserve officer in 1988. He went full-time in 1989 as a dispatcher in the communications division and has worked his way up the law enforcement ladder one rung at a time.
Haun has been a road patrol deputy, the supervisor of road patrol, a court bailiff and a detective. Now he is supervisor of both the civil division and the child support division.
“When I started, we didn’t even have a computer,” Haun said. “We wrote everything down on a legal pad. Now everything is done with computers and legal pads are used as scratch pads.”
Haun spends much of his day doing electronic paper work on the computer. He has to stay up on changing laws and attorney general rulings and relay that information to the rest of the sheriff’s office staff.
“That’s the toughest part of my job,” Haun said. “Keeping track of all the necessary paper work is demanding.”
During his years with the sheriff’s office, Haun has seen first-hand how crime has changed. He said the sheriff’s office deals more and more with identity theft and computer theft.
“We sock a lot of man hours into online crime,” Haun said. “Sexual predators and embezzlement are increasing.”
Haun coordinates prisoner transports, court appearances, and monitors all of Children’s Services needs when it comes to background checks for employment and those seeking employment.
The various positions he has held have required him to train in all divisions. Haun said his experience and training, including online training, enables him to be flexible in his work.
“I’ve gone where I’m needed,” Haun said. “It’s all a part of the educational process.”
“I do regret not going to college,” he shared. “But if I were to count all the hours of training I’ve done, I probably would have some kind of degree.” He said he would encourage his sons to go to college.
Still, Haun has no regrets about the career path he has chosen.
“It’s a pleasure to be of service to the public,” Haun said.
This story first appeared the Holmes Bargain Hunter.
A siren woke me from my deep sleep. Even though I didn’t see it, the quickened rumble told me it was a fire truck.
I arose, and soon a second fire truck went by heading south, lights flashing in the dense morning fog. Several minutes later, a third fire truck from a station 12 miles away roared by. It was obvious there was a big fire somewhere.
Of course, I was curious about the location of the blaze. My curiosity was soon cured. My wife announced that our daughter in Virginia had emailed to ask what we knew about the fire at Martins Creek Mennonite Church.
I was stunned. I asked how Carrie knew about the fire. “She saw it on Kim Kellogg’s Facebook page” came the swift answer.
Since Kim is a mutual friend, both in real life and on Facebook, I immediately went to my Facebook page, clicked on Kim’s posting, and sure enough, there were pictures of the old church burning and the firefighters working diligently to extinguish the flames.
The scene saddened me. I could see that the blaze was serious, and I knew that the historic structure was a tinderbox.
I kept up with the progress of the fire by following Kim’s postings. I was glad our daughter had let us know. I was appreciative of Kim’s timely updates. It had to be hard on him. It was his church.
But I also had to simultaneously absorb the bang-bang way in which we had found out about the blaze. Our daughter, 350 miles away, had notified us electronically of a fire less than three miles from our house.
An ironic pall clouded my thoughts. It wasn’t that it was wrong. But there was a certain ambivalence to the entire process. It felt like the same uncertainty that had kept me from originally joining the social network craze.
What I was experiencing was one of the new ways to communicate in today’s technologically driven world. I had long resisted enrolling in any of the online social networks like Facebook or MySpace. I thought they were mainly for young people. I don’t text either.
I also thought they would be too intrusive into my life, would reveal too much information that would and could be used by unscrupulous schemers. Neither did I see the sense in it. After all, all one had to do was pick up the phone and call, or email, or even write a letter, or better yet, come over and visit.
What made me change my mind? Why my sociable daughter of course. Once I realized that I was missing postings of the latest happenings with her and her family, I decided to open my own Facebook account so I could keep up with the grandkids.
I soon learned that I wasn’t the only old person on Facebook. And when friends, relatives and former students from long past began to connect with me, I felt better about the whole idea of sharing on the Internet. I still try to be both careful and practical with what I post for others to read and view.
That morning’s emotional events still seem surreal. Our daughter in Virginia knew about the fire close to us before we did. But therein lies the justification for social networking. It’s just another method for staying in touch.
Even in catastrophes like fires, social networking can instantaneously bring geographically separated people together. When used properly, that is a very good thing.
It’s no accident that Leah Miller’s life has come full circle. Agriculture runs deep in her genes, personal life and in her professional career.
She grew up on a farm, and now her life is all about farming, both at home and on the job, whichever particular job it is she happens to be doing. In between, her career took a productive, if not circuitous route before Miller, 61, planted her agricultural roots.
Born in Conneaut, Ohio near her parent’s home farm at Pierpont, Miller followed some pretty big family footprints. Her father and her father’s father were both agricultural teachers, in addition to running separate farms in Ashtabula County.
Miller’s mother, Celia Wright, took charge of the family farm when her husband, Eber, moved into regional planning. Ironically, that is exactly the job Miller took in Lake County after graduating from The Ohio State University in 1971. She became Holmes County’s regional planning director two years later.
There is a bit of double-irony in this scenario. The Holmes County regional planning office was in the front of Hotel Millersburg.
“My parents spent the first night of their honeymoon at Hotel Millersburg,” Miller said. “They got a late start from their wedding reception in Columbus and following U.S. 62, Millersburg was as far as they got.”
Miller served in this capacity for six years. Once she and her husband, Mic, started their family, Miller turned her efforts to community service. She served two terms on the West Holmes Local School Board. Later, she served on the board at Central Christian School. She also served a term on the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale board of directors, and was a 4-H advisor for a dozen years.
Miller was the first director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce, once it expanded from beyond Millersburg proper. In the 1990s, Miller’s leadership abilities became political. She was twice elected as a Holmes County commissioner.
All the while she found solace from her demanding schedule on her 50-acre sheep farm, Blue Bird Hill, east of Millersburg. She also kept bees, as did her father.
Her love for land and the people that farmed stirred within her. In 2001, she worked with former state representative Joy Padgett to form the Small Farm Institute.
“There was a concern about erosion and farming,” Miller explained. “The emphasis was to help farmers do more grazing with their animals.” She said the sod would help reduce run-off, and at the same time provide a natural grass diet for cows, cattle and sheep.
Miller is the director of the Small Farm Institute, which is based at the United States Department of Agriculture’s hydrological station in Coshocton County. She assists small farm operations to improve income by providing helpful information on sustainable environmental practices that support strong family and rural communities. Her focus is on production, processing and distribution of product.
“We encourage people to look for value-added production to enhance profitability,” Miller said. “If they run a produce stand, they can increase their income by making jam or canning instead of selling all their fruit and vegetables fresh.”
Much of Miller’s responsibility revolves around facilitating grazing groups. She said this has been especially successful among the Amish, who tend to form their own peer groups in close proximity to help reduce the need for transportation.
“It’s been a joy to watch them expand,” she said. “They hold pasture walks where they share helpful grazing information with one another.”
As satisfying as that is for Miller, she also supports much larger events. Her skill sets also assist the annual North Central Ohio Grazing Conference for Dairy, which brings in hundreds of people, including many from other states.
Miller also advises the planning committee for the upcoming annual Family Farm Field Day. David and Emily Hershberger will host the event on their farm, located on Saltcreek Township Road 613 in Holmes County, on July 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As if she weren’t busy enough, Miller works part time as stakeholder coordinator in agricultural economic development for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. She splits her time between there and the Small Farm Institute. Miller is the executive secretary of the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council, too.
Miller has traveled extensively, including Australia, Mexico, France and Honduras, touring grazing and farm production operations and doing a little mission work, too. She uses these experiences to expand what she shares about improving local farming practices.
It seemed only logical then that Miller’s leadership abilities be put to use in yet another positive way for the community. Miller has successfully lead Leadership Holmes County for employees of area businesses for several years. In that fact, there is no irony.
This article was first published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, July 5, 2010.
Benefit auctions abound in Ohio’s Amish country. Every year thousands of people from near and far attend these worthwhile functions.
Dave Kaufman of Kaufman Realty, Sugarcreek, serves as auctioneer at many of the benefit auctions. He’s not surprised at the popularity of the events at all. He said the formula for their success is pretty simple.
“It’s a very giving, caring community,” Kaufman said. “If it’s a good cause, the auction will get good support.”
Kaufman estimated that there are at least 35 such benefit auctions in Amish country. Some are small, local auctions, like the ones for private Amish schools. Others draw big crowds and usually raise major money for their causes.
“If there is a need,” Kaufman said, “people come to the rescue.”
One of the largest benefit auctions is the Rainbow of Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. Henry Hershberger is its president and founder. This year’s sale is July 23 and 24 at the Mt. Hope Auction barn.
The sale has been a local mainstay since 1987 when Hershberger’s young daughter was hospitalized for two months. Hershberger is Amish and along with other members contributes to the church’s medical fund. But in this case, the fund was depleted before the bills were paid.
Hershberger turned to the community for help, which responded by raising the $20,000 balance of his medical bills. Touched by the generosity, Hershberger started the auction as a way to help others who might be in a similar situation.
“Our best auction was in 2008 when we totaled $403,735,” Hershberger said. He rattled off that figure from memory.
“We try to focus on the community to make it work,” Hershberger said. “It’s something the entire community can participate in.”
Like most other benefit auctions, Rainbow of Hope Auction depends on volunteer labor and donations of items for a successful sale. With furniture the biggest moneymaker, Hershberger said that the work of the furniture committee is key.
“We have about 25 people who canvas the community, hitting every furniture manufacturer and retail store for donations,” he said. “All the items are new.”
Hershberger said they also auction quilts, gift certificates and other home and garden items. Hershberger stressed that the Rainbow of Hope fund is not just for Amish.
“Any resident in Coshocton, Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties can apply to the committee for financial help,” he said. “We may not be able to pay all of their bills, but we can help in some way.”
Hershberger said the Rainbow of Hope fund has never run out of money either. He said the committee uses two percent for overhead.
“The other 98 percent is used for those who need it,” Hershberger said. He has served as chair of the auction for 20 years.
Another popular benefit auction is the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale, which will be held August 6 and 7 this year in Kidron. Last year, the sale raised $338,653 for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
MCC is the relief, service and development agency of North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. Several such sales are held throughout North America annually. The Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale is typical of those auctions.
Once again, the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale will feature a varied schedule of events. Everything from food to children’s activities to the auction items themselves will be included. Even a USA Track and Field certified Run for Relief will be held to help raise money for MCC projects worldwide.
Another big benefit auction in the area is the Ohio Haiti Sale, also held at the Mt. Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. This year’s sale, which will have special meaning given the catastrophic January earthquake in Haiti, will be held on Labor Day weekend, September 3 and 4.
This sale is also one of several held around the country for the benefit of those in need in Haiti. The Ohio Haiti sale was also begun in 1987. It, too, takes a coordinated effort of many volunteers and donated items to raise funds.
Food, fun and fellowship enhance the actual auctioning of items at the Haiti sale, just like all the other benefit auctions that predominate the summer months annually in Ohio’s Amish country.
This article first appeared in the June 2010 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.
Henry Schlabach, Jr. knows a thing or two about barbequing chicken. He should. He’s been at it for 45 years.
The 72-year-old Schlabach, who lives between Berlin and Millersburg, seems to get as much satisfaction from helping his customers as he does making the chicken. Schlabach’s reputation for preparing excellent barbequed chicken has spread far and wide over those many years with some customers coming from 60 miles or more. He mainly grills chicken for families, organizations and wedding receptions.
Schlabach said he normally barbeques an average of 10,000 chicken halves a year. He has relied solely on word-of-mouth advertising.
“In all those years,” Schlabach said matter-of-factly, “I haven’t spent one penny on advertising.”
For Schlabach, the season for barbequing chicken runs from April through November. Not surprisingly, he is particularly hectic around holidays.
On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, for example, he was busy barbequing 740 chicken halves and 300 chicken quarters. Schlabach said he usually barbeques the chicken in batches of 500 halves at a time, 25 halves to a rack.
“That takes us four to five hours to do that many,” Schlabach said.
Of course, Schlabach doesn’t take on all this alone. His sons, Tim and Mark, help out. They started helping him by making the sauce when they each were around 10-years old. Today, they are grown men with families themselves. Now the grandsons have joined the crew.
“I couldn’t do it without their help,” Schlabach said. If an organization orders chicken, representatives from that group also assist in the hot and sweaty production.
Grandson Charlie Schlabach said he likes to help for three reasons. “I get paid, it’s fun, and we get to eat chicken, too,” he said with a smile to match that of his grandpa.
The Memorial Day effort was a combination fundraiser for the Walnut Creek little league team and making chicken for high school graduation parties. The crew gathered at 5:30 a.m. to begin so they could be completed by mid-morning.
Schlabach started his chicken barbequing with a portable pit on a trailer.
“We could only do 150 halves at time with that,” he said. Schlabach has progressed to two roof-covered barbeque pits built behind a garage near his residence.
Schlabach began his barbequing career for the Shreve Businessmen’s Association that sold barbequed chicken at the Wayne County Fair. At that time, Schlabach ran a restaurant in Shreve.
“The guy that was supposed to make the chicken quit doing it,” Schlabach explained. “I don’t know why they called me to do it, but they did.” That first year he made 750 halves. Last year they sold 10,000 halves at that fair.
Schlabach said he uses a combination of vinegar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, salt and water, though he didn’t provide the specifics of the recipe. He still uses the original wire-meshed racks that were locally made to barbeque the chicken.
Schlabach is picky about the charcoal he uses, too. He drives to Brookville, Pennsylvania and buys a season’s worth of Humphrey Charcoal.
He said getting the fire hot, and then turning the racks with the cooking chickens is the key to ensuring good chicken. Of course, spraying the sauce with pressure sprayers is just as important. The most chickens ever done by Schlabach at one time was 2,000, which took about eight hours to complete.
With the demand for barbequed chicken growing, Schlabach has seen a lot of competition come and go over the years. This year, he said, there aren’t so many people making chicken.
“It’s just plain hard work,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. He thinks the craving for chicken in the area could possibly be due to the high number of benefit sales conducted locally. For the record, the Walnut Creek baseball team sold all their chicken.
That’s what Jr. Schlabach wanted to hear. For him, all the effort he put into the day, even with its early start, was worth it. And as a bonus, he got as much satisfaction from working with his family as he did barbequing his famously delicious chicken.
This article first appeared in the June 14, 2010 Holmes Bargain Hunter.
A trio of local Amish country grilling aficionados shared a few tips on how to ensure your summer grilling efforts are successful. Here’s what they recommend.
1. Plan your menu.
This may sound pretty obvious, but with today’s varying diets and preferences, there’s a lot to pick from. According to our local experts, you can grill your entire meal if you want.
Rueben Erb, owner of Sugar Valley Meats, Sugarcreek, Ohio, Roy Weaver, general manager of Weaver Furniture, Sugarcreek, and Ray Haas, owner of Shreve Custom Meats, Shreve, Ohio, each had excellent suggestions for successful grilling. In fact, Haas posts recipes online.
What you grill, including vegetables, all depends on your personal preferences. But they all agreed that planning is the important first step.
2. Prepare the food.
Another step that gets overlooked is preparing the food. Too many people simply want to light the fire, throw the meat on and take it off when it looks like it’s done. There is a lot to do before ignition.
Weaver is extremely particular about how he prepares his fillet. Just ask Erb.
“I have people ask for ‘Roy’s cut’ all the time,” he said. When they do, Erb knows exactly what they want, a two and a quarter inch thick piece of well-marbled fillet.
Besides how it’s cut, Weaver follows a lockstep method of seasoning the fillet.
“Meat should always be at room temperature before you season it and definitely before you grill it,” Weaver said.
Once it’s ready Weaver adds his own sequence of herbs and seasonings. He continues the seasoning during cooking, along with basting the meat with melted butter. The result is what he refers to as a crusted steak.
Haas’ approach is more basic. He just uses garlic salt to season his sirloin steak, a cut he said is overlooked by many people because it is generally a cheaper cut of meat.
With the advent of gas grills, people turned to rubs and liquid barbeque sauces to add flavor, according to Erb. He said that skinless chicken breast should be marinated prior to grilling, while chicken with skin should have the sauce applied during the cooking.
3. Use the right tools.
To ensure both excellent results and safe cooking, Weaver said it is important to use the correct tools when grilling. For example, Weaver uses two different wood cutting blocks when he grills, one for preparation, the other to use for the cooked food.
He also uses tongs to turn the meat with ease. A sharp knife, stainless spatula, a brush for basting, a timer and an apron are always at his ready, too.
Erb said using a meat thermometer is essential to know that whatever you are cooking is hot enough at its center.
4. Choose your fire.
In today’s grilling world, there are lots of choices. Our three experts each had their own preferences.
Erb prefers to grill using a wood fire, even though it takes up to two hours to get the fire hot enough to cook. He uses hickory or apple to get that smoky flavor in the food that gas grills can’t provide.
Haas enjoys a mix of charcoal and wood for his grill, also for added flavor.
Weaver uses an infrared grill, which he preheats the grill to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit before putting on the meat.
5. Properly grill your food.
Regardless of which method you choose, half the fun is in the grilling. All three agreed that time and temperature were critical in ensuring that the other half, eating, was as much fun.
The methods vary according to meat selection, the fire you have chosen and your own personal preference on how well you like your meat, chicken or fish cooked.
Haas said he uses cast iron grates on which to grill. “Once the meat releases, I flip it,” he said. “It’s done when the other side releases.”
Each advised grilling vegetables in aluminum foil. Use salt, pepper and olive oil to season the veggies and keep them moist. Weaver said it is important to watch the vegetables so they don’t overcook. For fish, Erb recommended taking the fish off once it begins to flake.
Whatever your taste palette desires, summer is the time to satisfy it by grilling. Following simple but important steps can make your efforts all the more enjoyable.
This article first appeared in the Holmes County Bargain Hunter, June 14, 2010.
Around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 5, 2010, the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for Holmes County, the heart of the world’s largest Amish population.
Sirens sounded as the storm rapidly approached. As a Skywarn spotter, I scanned the sky from the safety of my home. As the rain intensified, the sky looked ominous, and the sirens sounded again. However, it appeared that the worst of the storm had gone south of me. A friend alerted me to possible damage in the Berlin area.
I grabbed my camera, put on my waterproof shoes and headed south. I didn’t get very far. Fallen trees only two miles south of my home blocked the road. The fierce winds had ravaged old-growth woods behind a friend of mine’s home west of Berlin. A few homes were slightly damaged, a shed was completely destroyed and many trees were toppled.
I followed the damage into the west side of Berlin, where again trees were down, some laying in opposite directions. A home had the upper half of a large tree on its roof and the wind sent a limb through the roof of a nearby motel.
The next damage was east of Berlin near Hiland High School. Much of the damage there was from straight-line winds. Roofs were damaged; metal storage buildings buckled and signs were blown onto cars, damaging eight vehicles. Fortunately on one was injured.
Firefighters spotted a funnel cloud west of Walnut Creek, where the first official touchdown was recorded. A large garage at a bed and breakfast was destroyed. The storm continued east-southeast through Walnut Creek Township. A combination of straight-line winds and tornado winds downed trees, and damaged sheds and two houses near Walnut Creek, and then hit metal storage buildings south of Walnut Creek. The tornado touched down again at Gerber Valley Farms on CR 144 southeast of Walnut Creek where it damaged two barns. The tornado did minor damage to a few homes on a township road near the county line.
Once the tornado passed into Tuscarawas County at Sugarcreek, it intensified into an EF-1 tornado, according the Pittsburgh office of the National Weather Service, which has jurisdiction for Tuscarawas County and points east. They estimated the tornado winds at 95 m.p.h.
The tornado did major damage to Skyline Mobile Home Company on SR 93 north and to a home across the road. Several large trees were toppled. From there, the storm hit Uhrden Corporation and Zinck’s Fabric warehouse on the northeast side of Sugarcreek. It crossed the flooded Sugar Creek, causing heavy damage to both the old and new sewer treatment plant buildings of the village. Just east of there it hit a home and caused major damage to Sugarcreek Pallet.
The tornado continued east, striking four homes along SR 39 on the eastern edge of Sugarcreek. All four had roof damage. The tornado crossed SR 39, hit another industrial building and destroyed a large barn on the Lorenz farm south of Dutch Valley Restaurant. At that point, the tornado lifted.
In all, I spent five hours taking pictures. The shots below are representative of the damage that occurred in the path of this storm.
A brief glance at Bobby Hershberger’s hands, and you know his profession. Crinkled, calloused, chapped, all the marks of a born-again dairy farmer.
Not yet 50, his thick fingers belie the rest of his body. His steely eyes still sparkle, even on a gray day in Ohio’s Amish country. His rutty smile foretells his honesty, integrity, and dedication to farm, family and faith.
Modest as the day is long, Hershberger loves dairy farming. He must. He has spent his entire life milking cows, plowing ground, seeding fields, mowing hay, picking corn, feeding livestock, caring for family, serving church and community.
On good days he only works eight hours or so. On really good days, he works twice that amount. Such is the life of a dedicated dairyman.
With his equally dedicated wife, Beth, at his side, Hershberger has made it all these years, even milking just 30 Holsteins, not exactly a mega farm. The Hershberger’s also operate Pine Loft Bed and Breakfast out of their home high on a hill that overlooks Hershberger’s home farm in Monroe Township’s Paint Valley west of Millersburg, the county seat in Holmes County.
“Tilling 110 acres and milking just 30 cows, there are Amish who have bigger farms,” he said humbly. The combination of his demeanor and his gentleness tells even a visitor that there is no malice in this man.
There are 40 years of thought, vision and compassion, however. Hershberger began milking cows with his entire family. He then went 50/50 with his father, and for the last 22 years, he has been on his own. And that has worn him down.
In his lifetime of milking, Hershberger has seen a gradual but significant transition in the dairy industry. When Hershberger started helping on the family farm, farming was slower paced. Cooperation out-muscled competition, and income was much more stable, thanks in part to government milk subsidies.
But much of that has changed. In the last decade or so, the change has become more an economic stampede of sorts. To put it simply, it’s either get run over by the big guys, or step out of the way.
As hard of a decision as it was, the Hershberger’s have chosen the latter. This summer they will sell their herd, effectively ending an agricultural aspect that has kept the couple close to home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Holsteins, after all, don’t take vacations, so neither do their owners. As the couple looked ahead and weighed their options, the decision to stop milking became pretty clear. Day in and day out, milking cows is as grueling as it is satisfying.
“The decision really came down to this,” Bobby explained. “Either we had to expand or get out.” They loved their life on the farm. But they also knew that there was more to life than milking cows twice a day until you physically couldn’t do it any more.
“Farming is a challenge,” Bobby said. “The work is never the same from day to day because something always comes up.”
“I have enjoyed being able to work from home,” he reflected, “but when you milk, you are always at home.” Hershberger said after all these years he and his wife are simply tired.
Last year was an especially horrible year for farmers, according to Hershberger. In a way, that made their decision to stop milking much easier. Bobby saw staying in the dairy business as a sinking hole.
“With prices down, you work seven days a week and end up having nothing to show for it,” he said dejectedly.
Hershberger said that the only way to continue as a dairy farmer was to expand operations. To do that, he would have to purchase or rent more land, which would require him to buy bigger, better, and more expensive farm equipment and buildings, and hire farmhands. All of that meant borrowing more money, and that just wasn’t something he and Beth wanted to do at this stage in their lives.
Hershberger wanted to be clear that this was a personal decision. He doesn’t begrudge anyone. Dedicated farmer that he is, he wants the industry to succeed. But he sees the small farmer like himself being squeezed by the system more and more.
Hershberger is a practical man. “Being a dairy farmer has gone from a way of life to a way of making a living for big business,” he said.
With that, the strong, humble man’s voice tailed off, almost in a quiet relief of the decision he had made to stop milking cows. Hershberger said he would continue to farm the fields.
“But I will have to find a part-time job someplace to make up for the lost income,” he said realistically. “I feel at peace about my decision though.”
This story originally appeared in the Farm and Dairy tab of the Holmes County Bargain Hunter.