Look for the Helpers

Farm at sunset ( Taylor Leach )

If we’re being completely honest, I sat down to write this column and couldn’t decide what to say. Those who know me know I’m rarely at a loss for words, but the thought of finding something to say that could ease fears, calm nerves and provide any level of financial hope seems near impossible right now. 

As an essential industry, I think this time of quarantine and self-distancing has been particularly hard on farm families as we are tasked to figure out how to keep employees safe, how to keep business running in a somewhat normal fashion and what to do with our kids who are distance learning in most cases for the remainder of the school year. 

At our house this combination has meant my husband going to the farm on his normal schedule, while I attempt to wrangle an almost 3-year-old and a full-time job. While our daughter spent time at the farm with her dad, before returning to day care in early May, she watched a lot of Daniel Tiger, a PBS show spin-off of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. 

As I’ve observed our beloved industry rally around local communities during this time, I’m reminded of a Mr. Roger’s saying, “When the world feels scary, look for the helpers.” I’ve had my eye out for helpers the past few weeks and they’ve shown up on farms across the country.

We’ve seen cooperatives such as DFA and Land O’Lakes coming together to donate tens of thousands of dollars of dairy products to local food banks and community shelters. Midwest Dairy donated thousands of refrigerators to food banks and schools across the upper Midwest to encourage them to include dairy products in the meals they are providing to food insecure members of the community. We’ve even seen cheese processing companies send home 2-lb. bags of cheese in school lunch delivery programs. 

On farms across the country we’re seeing farmers come together to do what they do best: show up.They are purchasing dairy products to donate, and in some cases, when they have the processing equipment, farmers are donating milk straight from the farm. 

The story of a pair of sisters in Wisconsin comes to mind. Their family owns and operates Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus. The girls were looking for a way to help their community and came up with what they’re calling a “Kindness Cooler.” They stocked a refrigerator on their farm with milk and other dairy products that are free to anyone in the community. Demand has been high, with the creamery giving away more than 400 gal. of milk a day.

In our local community, a dairy farmer offered 2 gal. of milk free to anyone who needs it. In one day, he gave away 1,400 gal. of milk to people from an 80-mile radius. 

I know there are dozens more stories just like this happening throughout the U.S. It turns out Mr. Rogers was right. When I look for the helpers, my fears ease up — at least for a moment. The reality is we might not all make it out of this one, but the will of the American farmer to do what is right, good and noble gives me hope for brighter tomorrows.