Widerman Carves <\n>Out Farming Niche
Special Sections Editor
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — “I was always into the farm, especially the cows, even when I was little,” said Joy Widerman. She has worked on her family’s dairy farm, JoBo Holsteins since she was a young girl, minus the one year she served as a Pennsylvania State FFA officer, but it took a crisis to solidify her career.
A teat dip purchased had too much acid and it burned the cows’ teats. “It was at that point that the whole farm flashed in front of my eyes.” Her fear was the farm was not going to make it over this hurdle. The family was forced to cull a high number of cows as a result.
“That is when it hit me, I don’t want to lose this place. It’s where I want to be,” she said. “This is where I want to raise my family, this is my home. This is my true passion.”
JoBo Holsteins, located just outside of Gettysburg, Pa., is a 950 -cow dairy. Several members of the family, including her parents are in a limited liability partnership.
They farm about 1,000 acres. A registered Holstein and Brown Swiss herd, the herd average more than 29,000 pounds of milk annually. Widerman joined the partnership in 2002, as the herdswoman making the farm breeding and marketing decisions, plus working with the nutritionists and veterinarian.
This past fall, she was selected as the 2012 Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award winner.
Widerman and her husband both work on the farm. Family members John, Josie, and Dale became partners with her parents John and Bonnie Hess in 2000, and she joined later. Joy said her father wanted to give her time to decide if returning to the farm was the right career choice for her.
As she has gotten older, she has appreciated her fa ther’s foresight, “I can’t say enough about our parents for what they did for us here,” she said, regarding their willingness to work to grow the farm so she and her siblings could return to the farm.
Her parents moved to the farm from Lancaster County in the 1970s. They led the first farm expansion in 1997 growing the herd from 200 to about 500 cows, and a second expansion in 2007 grew the herd to its current size.
“For us all to be here and to raise our families, there are advantages to being a farm this size, I can go on vacation with my kids or watch my kids games,” she said. Her kids are 10, 8 and 7.
Because the farm is a larger farm, incorporating her kids in the operation is different than when the farm was smaller. First, her kids have their 4-H projects at Joy’s home and the animals are their responsibility. Also, as her kids, as well as the other Hess grandchildren, have gotten old enough, they have been assigned duties around the farm. For example, several of the kids are assigned a day to help feed calves at the dairy.
“I do think they have to learn the responsibilities of a farm,” she said and she wants them to appreciate the hands-on side of the farm.
The farm has a workflow diagram posted outside of the farm’s milking parlor, along with reports about milk quality. She smiled when she realized her one son added his name to the listing of who was responsible for the calves. Also, when a farm employee needs to take a day off, some of the grandchildren are asked to cover for that person.
She said because the family works so closely together, her kids have close relationships with their cousins as well as their aunts and uncles. Joy’s husband, Brock’s main duties are with the crops side of the farm and during growing season, things can get busy.
Joy and her family also open up their farm to school tours every year. More than 1,000 kids visited the farm last year. In addition, after attending the national Achievement Award Contest as part of the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in January, she started a Facebook page for the farm to engage the public and to talk about farming.
It’s important because she realizes there is a disconnect between the farm and the dinner table. A couple of weeks ago, when rain was predicted, Brock missed one of her kid’s baseball games because of chopping forages to beat the weather. She had a parent who could not understand why it was so important. The mother said “it’s just grass,” not understanding the nutritional value of harvesting forages at the right time.
With 16 grandkids in the Hess family, and several nearing high school graduation, the family has also began the discussion on how the next generation can come into the farm, if it is their wish to return to the farm. The family decided to start discussing and planning now, so that everyone understands expectations and what a path to farm partnership will look like.
Some of the choices include grandchildren having to work off the farm for two years before returning to the farm full time and then they would have to work several years before they could be considered for the partnership.
Time will tell which of the grandkids will want to join the partnership, but for now, Joy enjoys watching her kids discover what parts of the farm that fit their personalities best. Each has very different likes, from one trying to figure out how to make a piece of equipment work better, to another who has a liking for the farm tractors and the final who has an affinity for cows. During a school tour, her one son provided extra tour add-ons talking to his classmates about the different pieces of equipment and how they worked.