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Dairy Grown Roundtable: Young farmers share their stories


What are your favorite fall memories? Maybe they include crisp, sunny mornings, holiday comfort foods, or pumpkin spice lattes. There are many reasons to celebrate the season, and behind every glass of eggnog, scoop of ice cream, or pumpkin spice latte is a dairy farmer and their cows.

That’s why this month we at Dairy Farmers of Washington are celebrating the hard work and dedication of our farmers.

Farmers work around the clock, 365 days a year, to bring their wholesome products from the farm to your table. And that product doesn’t just start at the store; it begins on the farm with dedication, purpose, and tradition.

“To me being a dairy farmer is part of a legacy,” says 18-year-old RJ Rupard from Ephrata, Washington. “I am the fifth generation in my family now to farm and I’d like to see the farm carry on for another generation.”

RJ Rupard (Image courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Washington)

That sense of tradition is what drives many young farmers to strive for a better tomorrow for both their kids and generations to come.

“Dairy farming is hard work, but it’s something I’m excited to keep in the family and for my kids. Our farm is about our family,” says Ruurd Veldhuis of the Yakima Valley.

Along with the joys of farming comes a set of challenges. No day is ever the same, but Rupard says that’s what keeps it interesting if you maintain the right perspective.

“Being able to do what I love every day is what gets me up in the morning,” he says. “Every day is an adventure on the farm. Even though I’m doing the same tasks everyday there’s always something different going on, it’s never the same thing.”

Farming is not for the faint of heart and takes resilience each and every day. Caring for cows leads to long days and sometimes long nights working in the barn or the fields.

“It’s easy to get discouraged at times, but I can only do the best I can,” says Enumclaw farmer Ryan Mensonides. “As long as I’m taking care of my employees, and we take good care of our cows I feel good about that.”

The Mensonides family (Image courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Washington)

Veldhuis hopes for a brighter future for his kids, but sees some tough realities that stand in the way for many farmers across the country.

“You see family farms going out of business every day because of the low milk prices paid to farmers,” Veldhuis explained. “People don’t understand the price you pay for milk at the store doesn’t go to the farmer; we get about 40% of that price. That’s a harsh reality right now and lots of dairy farmers are struggling.”

“It’s hard not being able to pay some bills,” Mensonides admitted. “But with the support of amazing people, I’ve seen that small-town farm help still exists, so that’s cool to see in today’s world.”

The Veldhuis familiy (Image courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Washington)

Dairy farming is a way of life farmers can’t imagine living without. It’s something special that, many dairy farmers, including 2018 Washington State Dairy Ambassador Abigail Zurcher from Basin City says will follow her for the rest of her life.

“There are so many options out there, but I know I want to stay connected to my roots by pursuing a career that will keep me close to the land and give me opportunities to still teach kids about agriculture and how it’s impacted my life,” she says. “My sisters and I worked hard every day feeding and watering calves and doing farm chores, it was a big part of my childhood. I want to teach kiddos that their food does not come from the back of the grocery store by showing them the process of how it gets to their table by telling them my dairy story.”

Washington State Dairy Ambassador Abigail Zurcher (Image courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Washington)

At the end of the day, it comes down to the cows. They are the heart of every dairy farm.

“There’s just something about being around cows that gives you a whole new perspective on life,” Rupard smiled.

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