Love in the Time of Farming

2/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Nicole Herman Reporter

EPHRATA, Pa. — Your palms start to sweat, the thumping in your chest quickens, and suddenly you find it hard to swallow. No, you’re not having a heart attack — you’re in love.

And love is no different when it comes to farmers. Well, OK, maybe a little different.

Love and marriage in the world of farming is bit more complicated than in some other relationships, mainly because time together is usually shared with the farm business — planting, harvesting and working in general — rather than strolling by the ice cream shop or going on romantic trips to Paris. But that, perhaps, is what makes it all the more wholesome and real for those who get the chance to date a farmer.

For this Valentine’s Day weekend, when love once again hangs heavy in the air, two farm couples shared their stories of finding love, working through hardships together and why the little things count the most.

Love at First Sight ... Or Second

Debra Brubaker was once a princess — the Pennsylvania dairy princess of 1974-1975 to be exact. As a dairy princess, she traveled through numerous towns and saw hundreds of people, all the while promoting the industry she adored.

Debra had grown up on a farm in Harrisburg, Pa., as a sixth-generation farmer raising 60 dairy cows with her parents. As part of being a dairy princess, her photo had been printed in the local paper, where Lowell Brubaker, a dairy farmer from Manheim, Pa., saw his future wife for the first time. But how was he ever going to catch Debra’s eye, let alone ask her out?

Debra, a rather refreshing and delightful woman to talk with if you ever get the chance, was indeed a busy princess at the time.

“In 1975, there was a cow sale in Lancaster,” she recollected, “where Rockvale Outlets now is, called The Guernsey Barn National Cow Sale. It was there he (Lowell) worked up enough nerve to come meet me.”

They chatted and the possibility of a relationship looked promising.

But then Debra kind of ... forgot ... about Lowell. You see, Debra’s father had promised to take the family to California for a three-week trip. And indeed they went, right after the cow sale. Debra’s thoughts, in turn, floated away from her new-found friend toward more immediate adventures.

Lowell, having now met her, marked his calendar for her return.

He called her when she arrived home, and “for the life of me,” she said, “I could not remember who he was when he called!” She took a chance and agreed to go on a date.

“I was constantly watching out the window. I didn’t know what he looked like!” she laughed, remembering.

She did recognize Lowell upon his arrival, but not before Lowell made an impression on her family.

“The poor guy,” Debra said. “My father loved big dogs. We had a German shepherd and a beagle. One of the dogs went after (Lowell’s) leg and he ran right into the kitchen door! What a way to make an entrance.”

The rest of their relationship went smoothly, however. They dated three years. The times they spent together were mostly on the weekends because, during the week, they attended to their farm work. Plus, the commute from his house to hers was a good 45 minutes. They married in 1979 and will celebrate their 35-year anniversary in June.

A New Love

Kathy (Zimmerman) Kuhns has been married to Wilmer Kuhns for nearly three years in March, and they recently welcomed a baby daughter, named Jecoliah, into their family. At 12 weeks old, Jecoliah opens a new chapter of the couple’s life together — a relationship that started in 2009.

Kathy grew up on a dairy farm in Reinholds, Lancaster County, Pa., and attended Elizabethtown College. While there, she decided to go to a church Bible school where she ended up meeting Wilmer.

Wilmer had also grown up on a farm, one that the Kuhns family had owned since 1948, but it was two hours away from Kathy’s home. Like the Brubakers, Kathy and Wilmer ended up spending time together mostly on the weekends when they went to lots of church youth events and family events.

“Because of the distance, we often got to spend the entire weekend together instead of just an evening or day,” Kathy said. “We even milked cows and fed heifers together a few times.”

While the two had different ideas on how things should work on the farm, Kathy said that bringing Wilmer into her world “wasn’t difficult.”

“I found it to be fun,” Kathy said. “(We tried) combining different ideas from both of our farming experiences growing up to see what worked best. It really helped pull us together more, since we both felt we were contributing to the farm, and allowed us to work together.”

Wilmer asked Kathy to marry him during what she thought was a routine walk in the woods near the farm. Her shoe came untied and, like a gentleman, Wilmer knelt down to tie it for her. But when he remained on one knee, Kathy knew something special was happening.

“He planned to propose,” Kathy said. “But wasn’t sure how he was going to have an excuse to kneel, so he took advantage of my shoe.”

Here Comes the Bride

Planning a wedding in general is hard. Add in a farming schedule and that leaves little breathing room. But both couples made their special day come together without a hitch.

Kathy and Wilmer planned their wedding to be on a March morning, so they had enough time for the milking to be done before the wedding and to get the evening milking done after.

“Getting married in March is nice since it isn’t a busy time on the farm yet,” Kathy said. “Although we didn’t pick that month for that reason — rather (it was) because that was when it worked best for our honeymoon trip to Israel.”

Once married, the couple moved into the 140-acre Kuhns family farm and Kathy’s in-laws moved to their “retirement home.” Kathy and Wilmer work together to milk 50 Holsteins, half of them being Red and White Holsteins, and grow 70 acres of corn, 40 acres of alfalfa, 20 acres of barley that get double-cropped with soybeans and 10 acres of wheat.

Debra Brubaker also moved onto her husband’s family farm once she got married. There they have raised three daughters and one son. While the Brubakers’ own June wedding went smoothly (besides having to make hay), Debra said her daughter’s wedding cut it close during the fall of 2007 due to the pressing needs of their farm. The family was able to fill silos, harvest corn and pack feed into trenches by the Wednesday before the Saturday wedding, but two guests were unable to make it because they were still filling their silos.

“You have to have an understanding of this industry,” Debra warned. “Be flexible. It’s never a dull moment. I try to think ahead. ... I always tell people, Take one day at a time.’”

Tough Times

The year was remains a dark time for many dairy farmers. Milk prices hit bottom and feed prices rose. For the Brubaker family, tough times meant working smarter and harder. They teamed up with a Dairy Profit CDE (Center for Dairy Excellence) financial person to facilitate once-a-month meetings and quarterly meetings to help the family meet their budget. Debra and Lowell see their constant communication with each other during that time as a blessing.

And then, in 2012, something unexpected happened.

“When the farm came up for sale next door,” Debra said, “the profit team helped us through it. We attacked that for our son. It was a very special day for us. We had hoped that the timing would be right and, you just have to grab it.”

Now they price check “everything, all the time” to help balance their budget. They keep everyone in their family informed of changes and purchases, especially the seed bill, which has proved to be the biggest. Debra is currently “working hot and heavy on taxes” to get those done.

Fighting and arguing can also be a hot spot in relationships, especially with farming couples, since they are constantly working with each other. Kathy Kuhns has been angry, but never for long.

“Since you have to be (together) and work together, you can’t go off and stew over something for a long time,” she said. “I found because of this, I don’t stay upset as long. Seeing the person you are married to often, makes you remember how much you love him.”

Together Forever

Debra and Lowell do still go on dates, although not as often as they would like. But they pay particular attention to birthdays and anniversaries by doing things together like going to a cow sale in New York or showing cows. Debra knows Lowell loves breakfast, so she is always sure to make him something delicious in the mornings, and Lowell picks up some of the house chores when he knows Debra is stressed.

Valentine’s Day is a special day for the Brubakers and although Lowell has already won over his princess, he does well to continue to impress her and his daughters.

“Lowell is really good at flowers,” Debra said. “He will get a flower for each daughter and myself. I must admit, he tries. It’s always so much an A’ for effort.” She laughed, admitting at the time of the interview she was unsure of what the plans were for Valentine’s Day. “We’re probably going out for a date. It’s always so special to not have to cook.”

Kathy Kuhns, too, was unsure if or what her husband had in store for the romantic holiday this weekend. But, like a true farmer, one sure-fire date night idea came to mind:

“Milk the cows together, maybe?”

Editor’s Note: Kathy Kuhns worked as a part-time employee for Lancaster Farming until she left in February 2011 to get married.

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