The next time you are driving through the countryside and you see a tractor, a barn or a cow, I want you to think of the story behind those things.
Who is driving the tractor and why? Do they own a farm? Are they having a successful harvest?
Who is working in that barn? How long have they worked there? Is it a family farm?
Who cares for that cow? What kind of breed is that cow? Is she the result of years of learning about pedigrees?
These questions should challenge you to think more of a farm. More of the people driving the tractors. More of the kids working alongside their parents. More of the decades and centuries of hard work, learning and tradition that have gone into growing and producing your food.
Today, you can see the story of one Wisconsin farm for yourself! The Haldiman Family brought me to tell the story of their Calumet County Farm, with a focus on truly documenting the farm in its current season.
The day of our meeting and photo session was perfect. The sun was out, the fall colors were starting to show off, and everyone spent a lot of time together walking through the barns, petting cows, chasing kittens and thinking about the future.
The family, Keith and Patricia and their five children, Jennifer, Eric, Abby, Adam and Matt, are going through a season of change, which like any farm is normal. However, there is a time when every farm family has to make decisions about the future. Now, after 30 years of running their dairy operation, the Haldiman family is preparing to sell their 150 dairy cows in mid-November.
“This is an emotional time of lasts for our family, especially our parents,” eldest daughter Jennifer said.
There will be a last milking, a last feeding, a last cow on the trailer and a last goodbye to old and beautiful friends.
Keith and Patricia lived and breathed agriculture, both having grown up on Wisconsin dairies. In the early years of their marriage, they managed a farm in North Prairie, Wis. and both worked additional jobs, Keith as a cow breeder and Pat as an accountant. All the while, they were building a dream in their hearts to own their own dairy. Before getting to that point, they had to do a lot of planning, preparing and work.
In the beginning stages of their progress to owning a place to call their own, they got started by renting a farm in Larsen, Wis. For two years they rented while they looked for their future home for their family and their cows.
When they made the jump to finally buy their own dairy in Calumet County in 1987, shortly after their 10th anniversary, they were advised by both sets of their parents not to buy. Their parents were concerned about the future of agriculture, as they could see the industry changing rapidly in terms of technology, size and cost.
With their parents warnings in mind, Keith and Patricia decided to go all in with the purchase. The pair had goals for their cows and a mission to raise their kids on a farm so as to teach them about work ethic and teamwork.
The farm they bought, is just 10 short miles from Pat’s childhood farm.
Just a year after buying, there was a drought, which will make any farmer wary. As children, the kids remember things being different about their parent’s attitudes during the dry period, but reflecting now as adults, they realized how scared their parents were about losing everything they just invested in. But when the rain came, there were splashing celebrations in the new mud.
As time went on, the original 50-head herd of milking cows grew to upwards of 200 cows. The Haldimans were doing most of the labor and field work themselves, going through many ups and downs that farming brings each season.
The eldest son, Eric, learned about tractors very quickly and learned to love working on the farm. Following in his footsteps, each of his younger siblings found their favorite things to do on the farm, be it feeding calves, milking cows, fixing things or playing in the hay.
The children, now adults, are all proud of what they got to learn at an early age about how life and death works, and are thankful to their parents for raising them the values of a farmer.
There was more than just work for the Haldiman children, but a lot of fun only farm kids get to experience. They could jump in the cottonseed, play in the woods and even assist their parents with caring for the cows. (Even chasing the cows back home during middle of the night escapes!)
Every one of the Haldimans contributed to the success of the farm for many long years, but not without sacrifice. Family vacations were hardly existent, outings with friends were hard to maneuver, planning in advance was difficult. Farming consumes everything, and the cows need to be milked. No matter what.
Family is so incredibly important to all people, but it means something a little bit more when you are the member of a farm family. You rely on one another to keep going, to keep working, to make sure all the work gets done. As farm children grow and start living their own lives, things do have to change at home.
Keith and Patricia are sad to sell their cows and change their perspective, but they are proud of their life’s work. They are proud of who their children have grown into, what they are doing with their lives and the choices they are making. Now as they have just celebrated 40 years of marriage and farm life together, and they plan to enjoy whatever comes next.
After years of living in the mentality of “the farm comes first,” the Haldimans are putting themselves first. Rest, relaxation and more family time are on the way.
Change in Wisconsin Agriculture
Wisconsin dairy is changing, and each day another farm makes the decision to “let it go.”
These are never easy choices, but necessary ones as farmers get older, children move away and other farms grow. Parting with decades of work, tradition and caring for cattle and crops is incredibly emotional. Unless you have gone through this process, there is no way anyone can understand the hurt and anguish of no longer farming.
In most cases, farmers have been farmers their whole lives. They wake up before the sun to check on a birthing cow. They harvest corn late into the darker days of fall. They teach their children how to work hard and respect animals.
Giving that legacy up is indescribable.
The Haldimans are familiarizing themselves with the pain of giving up farming. With the support of their children, they are weathering this storm of transition. As much as the kids love the farm they will not be taking over, a path many millennial farm kids take.
Due to their immense passion for agriculture, the Haldimans plan to speak about the importance and necessity of farming. As Keith and Patricia already have three young grandchildren, they see the importance of sharing their story to ensure future Haldimans know where their food comes from, and how their family was a part of it.
My hope is they will find peace and happiness and pride in their farm when they think of it in the future. And I think they will do just that.