Kids, Cows and Communication

5/18/2013 7:00 AM

Semmel-Lazarus Balances <\n>Farm, Kids for Career

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

Special Sections Editor

SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. —Andrea Semmel-Lazarus’s journey back to her family’s dairy farm was an unexpected one, but she said it’s an example of how life can take turns and lead you down a path different from the one planned.

Semmel-Lazarus works for her parents, Paul and Nancy Semmel, on the family dairy farm, Excelsior Dairy, Schnecksville. The farm is home to 225 Holsteins, Red and White and Brown Swiss, 100 cows are on DHIA test.

“We are different,” she said. “I work for my parents, and that is okay.” She recognizes others would want to work into ownership of the farm, but for her, she’s happy to be an employee. Semmel-Lazarus does own animals individually as well as in partnership with other family members, but as for the farm business, it’s still her parents.

“I never had a oh, I am going to be a dairy farmer, so I am going to do dairy science.’ I thought I was going to be an ag teacher,” she said of her early career thoughts.

Semmel-Lazarus was in college pursuing an education degree at the same time her father was serving as a state representative. Her mother, along with their herdsman, managed the day-to-day operation of the dairy. During that time, her mother had a health issue, and Semmel-Lazarus decided to return home to the farm. She’s never left.

“At that time, it was time for me to be there,” she said, “It worked out, everything works out in the long run. I am where I am supposed to be.”

Semmel-Lazarus and her husband, Calvin, have two twin boys, Samuel and Levi, who are five. Calvin has an off farm job and a landscaping business part time, as well as helps out at the dairy. Calvin milks two nights a week so Semmel-Lazarus can get some things done around the house. “Now that doesn’t always happen,” because of unexpected events, she said.

Semmel-Lazarus has two other sisters, and she said growing up, her father always taught them they could do anything they wanted to. “I was fortunate that my dad always viewed me as an equal, it’s why I believed I could do it,” she said.

Raising her twin boys, there are days that are more challenging than others, but she takes a can-do attitude. She will start her day, heading out the door before the kids are up to start morning milking. Calvin gets the boys ready for preschool. Her father will leave the farm to take the boys off to preschool, leaving Semmel-Lazarus to wrap up the morning work. She then picks them up at the end of the program.

“There are days that I am constantly looking at the clock,” she said as she jockeys the work needed to be completed in a day.

In addition to milking cows, helping with the calves, and other barn activities, Semmel-Lazarus also assists with the field work. She admits when people see her driving a tractor, they often will do a double take as if surprised to see her doing fieldwork.

If there is one challenge, she said it’s keeping a focus on family time. “There are days that our house feels like it’s a revolving door,” she said. When she feels the family is being pulled, they take a break either by going out to dinner as a family or taking an afternoon trip, to find a time. “That has been a challenge, we need to work on that more.”

She admits that sometimes, Calvin and her milking cows together allows “quality time.”

Safety is a big concern she said when she has the boys on the farm.

Next to the milking parlor they have a play area for the boys. And Semmel-Lazarus’s rule is the boys have to stay in her line of sight at all times. “I am forever where are the boys,’” she said. The employees are told if they see the boys and she’s not near, to ask questions.

Raising kids on the farm she believes will benefit her boys as they grow. “Unlike many of their classmates, they are going to see a lot of joys, as well as heartache. They are going to succeed, no matter how hard things get,” she believes, by watching how the family has to cope with the ups and downs of farming. “They will have the tools because of agriculture.”

As her kids enter kindergarten this fall, Semmel-Lazarus sees an opportunity to advocate for agriculture. “I want people to see me as having a regular life,” in addition to her farming responsibilities. “When people find out I am a dairy farmer they are always surprised,” she said because she does not look like their perceived notion of what a farmer looks like.

She has taken a calf and a pig to her sons’ preschool during “ag week.” She also donates the American Farm Bureau Foundation’s Book o f the Year, a children’s book that accurately depicts today’s farming practices, to the preschool and libraries.

“I feel I am advocate for agriculture, because I need to set the record straight,” she said. Semmel-Lazarus said she has connected with parents because she can answer their farming questions.

And as her kids head off to school she would like to see the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s Mobile Ag Lab, the county dairy princess and other programs that continue to share the story of agriculture.

Semmel-Lazarus also had the opportunity to travel across the country as part of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 20/20 committee, which attempted to project what American Agriculture would look like in the year 2020.

“That was fabulous, I was fortunate to be on that committee,” she said. For two years, every other month, she was traveling to different parts of the country for intense meetings and tours, tackling the question “where’s agriculture going.”

It opened her eyes to how diverse agriculture was, “but at the end of the day we want the same thing. We all want make a living, be profitable and how you get there is such a challenge.”


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