July 24, 2013 § 11 Comments
We live smack-dab between two dairy farms. Just to our south, with his primary hayfield sharing our boundary line, is Melvin’s place. Melvin is in his 60’s; he mostly farms alone, with some help from his live-in girlfriend. He milks about 35 cows. He grew up on a farm in this town, and with the exception of a handful of years, has been milking cows his whole life. We keep a freezer in his basement, collect his waste milk for our pigs. I see him almost every day. I know he’s thinking about what comes next. He can’t milk cows forever, though knowing Melvin, he just might try.
Just to our north, Jimmy and Sara milk a herd of about 60. They are in their 20’s, and recently had their first child, a daughter. In addition to milking, they run a 2500-tap sugaring operation, plow driveways, sell firewood, do some tractor logging, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Last summer, they got married in the barn, above the milk room. They had a one-day honeymoon, and it was the only day off they had all year. Like Melvin, I see them almost every day.
I would not want to milk cows for a living. I know it to be hard and uncertain work. But I hope I always live in the proximity of dairy farmers, who seem to embody the antitheses of these attributes. In my experience, they are kind and generous, and some of the most certain, confident people I know.
Does the work make them that way? Or are they uniquely suited to survive the work because they were born like that? I have no idea, but in truth I hope it’s neither, if only because that would leave open the possibility that I might still come to embody more of these qualities, myself.