Passing on the Dairy Tradition: Two Generations of Women Share Dairy Passion

5/18/2013 7:00 AM

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

Special Sections Editor

NEW TRIPOLI, Pa. — For Robin Rassler and her daughter Jenny Gehringer, a common love of dairy cows goes beyond a passion, it’s their career. The pair are members of the Dietrich family who manage Lynn Acres Farm in New Tripoli, Pa.

Rassler and her brothers Bill and Brian Dietrich farm in partnership. Bill manages the crops and Brian splits his time between helping with the dairy operation and cropping operation. Her husband, Bryan Rassler, owns a body shop and works off farm.

“I think people are beginning to recognize women have as much to say about what is happening on the farm as men, compared to when I started,” Robin said. She attended a calf-raising conference sponsored by her feed company recently, and many of the men in the conference stressed it was their wives that managed the calves, not them.

Robin said it was her dad that inspired her choice in farming. In the 1980s when she became a principal part of the operation, it was more unique than it is today. “This was my dad’s passion and I loved working with my dad,” she said, explaining the seed that attracted her to dairying.

Today, the farm includes about 200 cows and a total of about 1,500 acres, mostly rented acres. The home farm has about 129 acres.

Jenny graduated from Penn State in 2009, and started a career in dairy nutrition, but like her mother, she soon realized she wanted to be at home with the cows. The farm made adjustments and she is employed on the farm.

“I am pretty much following in her footsteps,” she said. “A year and a half ago, I came home full time.” She and her husband Cyrus hope to establish their own dairy farm in the future.

When Jenny graduated from college, most of her classmates were female and most of them were interested in a farming career or a related industry. According to her, she has not found the acceptance challenges that earlier generations might have had, because of those who had gone ahead of her.

“The generation before me, the ones that went out there with more female vets and representatives getting out to farms, paved the way for people my age that they don’t look as your gender as much, that’s what I noticed in the field,” Jenny said.

Robin’s second daughter Jordan is enrolled at Kutztown, studying education. Jordan’s career goals will take her away from the farm, but she does own cattle with her sister. “I’m not leaving, it just does not work with my dreams,” Jordan said, but she does see keeping a tie to farming, it just might be in a classroom.

Looking back at raising her girls, Robin admitted at times it was overwhelming, but “you just did it,” she said of balancing her responsibilities on the farm with raising her girls. “Having them around me and watching them grow up. It’s the best thing that ever happened in my life,” Robin said.

It was hair-raising at times. The three shared stories about the fun times they have shared as the girls grew up. Jordan said as they have grown up, the three are more like sisters because of that closeness.

Jenny said she recognized that her life was different, not because of being in a farm family, but because of how much time her family spent together because of the farm.

Robin said she worried about keeping the kids safe, when they were on farm, saying that her own father died from a farm accident. She said at times she believes there were angels watching over her girls keeping them safe, recognizing that there are plenty of potential dangers around a farm for young children.

Family time is important to all of them. With the three Dietrich siblings in partnership, it allows each family to get a vacation. Robin said it’s good to get a week away from the farm. Also, because of milking at 3:30 in the morning and afternoon, Robin and her husband have time together in the evenings. Jenny said it takes more work because her husband has a crop farm and helps on his family’s beef farm. So, they try to work out time, whether it’s helping out at the other’s farm operation or catching a lunch together to find time for each other.

Robin said the next generation needs to have support because starting up a dairy operation on your own is not an easy feat. And with Jenny’s future plans of dairying on her own, Robin said she will support her goals as best I can.

“What is the future of this country if we can’t transition the younger children into it?” she said.

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