Sun-Ton Farms

Dairy Farming through the eyes of a former "city" girl. I am blessed to be able to work along side my husband of over 20 years and help care for our cows, calves, and beautiful farm.

When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a Physical Therapist.  This choice of occupation probably was due to the thousands of hours I spent doing gymnastics.  Tumbling and flipping for over 15 years will result in a few injuries that require a physical therapist.  Well fast forward to college and the quick realization that I was just not cut out for life as a Physical Therapist.  Instead I found myself graduating with 2 Bachelor of Science Degrees ~ Agribusiness and Crop Science.

As I left the beautiful campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, one would think I should naturally find employment in some area of agriculture. I mean I grew up in Napa, how about a winery or vineyard gig?? But when you meet and fall in love with a dairy farmer from Washington State, life takes a different path.  My destiny was to become a dairy farmer and work side by side with my husband and 3 kids running an organic dairy.

Now for the record, I had no idea about dairy farming.  I had never milked a cow, driven a tractor, or fed a calf.  I was a “green” or “naive” as anyone could possibly be.  So when you pair that with the fact I was a true “city” girl, I didn’t have much going for me.  But I will say this, I had the desire to learn, the desire to listen, and the ability to just go with the flow because quite honestly I did not know any better.

So what do this have anything to do with “Why I Love Being a Dairy Farmer”?  Dairy is full of all different types of people, opinions, cows, farm types, and styles of farming.  As long as you have a desire to learn and listen, the dairy community is full of all kinds of people willing to teach and help.  As long as you are humble, willing to listen, and respectful to those around you, anything is possible.  As for this former “city” girl, I am so blessed I can work along side my husband every day running our successful organic dairy.  For the record, I still enjoy a nice trip to the city ~ I can always find something to bring home from Macy’s and Costco.

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cows-2015Of course I meant to write this right at the turn of the new year.  When you live on a farm, many things get in the way of the “to do” list.  I had the goal to put down in print a few goals I have for 2017 but horrible below freezing temperatures, snow, and a round of the flu managed to completely derail my plan.

Now that the ice and snow have thawed and the house has been disinfected top to bottom I can get back to my thoughts and wishes for 2017.

1 ~ Appreciate and treasure the time I have with my family.  For too long I could not wait for my kids to be out of diapers, sleeping through the night, attending school all day……  The list goes on and it was all so I could have a few more minutes for me.  Well now as I look at the calendar, I realize I have very little time left with my kids before they head off to the next chapter in their life.  How did it go so fast?  Just yesterday I had a preschooler, infant, and a third on the way.  It just went by so fast and now all I want to do is slow it down.

2.  Appreciate and enjoy the life I have everyday.  I know this sounds easy and simple.  All it takes is a review of the newspaper or quick 30 minute newscast to showcase that there is so much sadness and suffering not so far from home.  I am so blessed to live on a beautiful farm and count cows and calves as my neighbors.  I have the pleasure of walking to work twice a day and I never have to worry about traffic.  It really is an ideal situation and I must remember to love and appreciate it every day.

3.  Encourage my kids to take chances.  I love routine.  I thrive on routine.  Maybe that is why dairy farming is the best job for me.  I want my kids to take chances.  I want them to be ok if something does not go like they want.  I never thought I would be married to a dairy farmer and living in rural Washington.  I took a chance and I never looked back.

Here’s to a great 2017.

I love raising my kids on a farm.  My kids are learning to work hard, work together, as well a developing a good work ethic.  So many families do not have the opportunity to provide this for their kids.  With that said, the horrific massacre that occurred in Orlando drove home the disadvantages of farm life.  I spent quite a bit of time explaining to my kids not just what happened but why it happened.  Now don’t get me wrong, my kids do not live in a version of Disneyland.  Our farm definitely IS NOT the happiest place on earth.  My kids are very aware of the current political sideshow in Washington DC, the traffic nightmares in the Puget Sound, and the issue of unemployment in our local community.  They understand bad things happen to good people.

What happened Saturday night in Orlando was truly a tragedy.  Hundreds of families were affected and lives were forever changed.  Explaining the reason(s) of why this happened to a couple of farm kids was very difficult.  What makes it even more difficult is when I don’t understand why.  I can answer why the sky is blue, why my stomach hurts after eating a gallon of ice cream, or maybe even why some girl broke my son’s heart.  But this horrible display of hate and anger leaves no explanation.  Looking out my back window at a group of beautiful cows grazing in the sunshine does provide a little solace.  I pray for those in Orlando.  While I may not be able to explain to my children why this happened to you and your loved ones, I can explain and share the love and strength you are sharing with the world even during one of the most difficult times in your life.

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This past week, our family experienced one of those days I never want to repeat.  We run an organic dairy  – this means we feed cows, feed calves, milk cows…… the typical dairy farm activities.  But, we also lead a “normal” life too.  We have end of the year school activities (FFA Banquet, Art Fair, Science Fair), sports signups (New Select Soccer Team), ADAPT kid class (think after school PE), and it goes on and on…….  But we also have all regular things every family deals with every day.  A washer that decides to quit.  A toilet that will not quit running.  A hot water tank that decides today is the day it will quit (right before mom takes a shower).

This past week we had one of those awful things every family hates to experience……. the passing of a family pet.  We had an amazing little puppy “Arlo”.  We had the pleasure of loving and caring for him for the past 5 months.  Something very unexpected happened.  Needless to say, many tears were shed but the farm must go on.  As we dealt with deep emotional pain, we also had to run the dairy.

With these events, we also have the luxury of healing.  Yesterday, my husband, daughter, and son made the drive to Eastern Washington and found an amazing little yorkie.  My oldest stayed home and completed his “to do” list.  Many of his “to do” items were those things my husband would have done on any given Saturday.  We were lucky to spend the day as a family and bring home a new addition to our home.

Meet AJ – or “Junior” for short.  We look forward to many days with this newest member of our family.

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I’ll be honest.  I have 3 amazing kids – one of the most common life lessons I have tried to teach my kids is “I do not care if life is not fair”.  Please do not come to me with the “It’s not Fair” excuse.  With that said, I must confess I had one of those “Life is not Fair” moments today.  Many a dairy farmer has watched a favorite cow give birth to a bull calf.  Normally this is just part of a normal day, the 50% chance of getting either a heifer or a bull.  For some reason a show cow takes on a different perspective.  Once she has been confirmed pregnant, you spend lots of time wondering and hoping if she will bless  the farm with a wonderful female offspring.  You try not to get your hopes up too much- but I will admit it is hard to not plan and think about all the great things that can happen when your daughter’s favorite brown swiss has a daughter.

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Meet “Stephen Curry”. A cute adorable Brown Swiss bull calf.

Let me introduce “Stephen Curry”.  He is an adorable little 100% Brown Swiss bull calf.  While he may cute as he can be, he can not permanently stay at our dairy farm.  Luckily we have some good friends who live nearby who adore and appreciate the brown swiss breed as much as we do.  “Stephen Curry” will move to their farm as soon as he is old enough (probably 4 months from now).  So in the mean time, every time I feed Stephen Curry I will quietly remind myself that “Life is not Fair”.  At least in this case.

I had the best time Sunday attending the 2016 Seattle Ice Cream Festival.   The Dairy Farmers of Washington made a $500 contribution to sponsor this event.   It was so amazing to see so many people interested in ICE CREAM.  The Pacific Northwest is so lucky to have so many small artisan ice cream creators.  I knew this event was going to be popular, but I was not ready for the wall to wall people. I t was like Disneyland at Christmas!!  All I can say is as a dairy farmer, it was amazing to see so many people interested in ice cream.  I hope this event happens again because this dairy farmer will definitely make time to attend.

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This is Martha Marino and she is an amazing advocate for dairy!  We are so blessed to have her representing the dairy farmers of Washington.

 

I think the most difficult part of dealing with autism is trying to figure out what is going on in your child’s brain.  Even the most well spoken, brilliant, and smart adolescent child has trouble communicating at times their feelings and thoughts.  Imagine an autistic child.  We struggle every day with his behavior, both appropriate and inappropriate.  Every time there seems to be progress, something triggers regression and we just end up back sliding.  But for every failure, we need to focus on the success.

This picture highlights what we deal with each day.  Joey can “function” through most day to day activities.  But, when his brain has had enough, time to sleep.  He has been doing this more than usual lately.  Makes me wonder even more what is going on in his brain.  Until he can better articulate his thoughts and feelings, maybe a good nap is what his body needs.

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1st night at Swiss Kamp – Must have had a good day.

Everyone remembers the “Got Milk?” advertisements, right?  Well, did you know this was a result of “checkoff” dollars from dairy farmers in California? Many people don’t realize this campaign was a result of checkoff dollars, so what are “checkoff” dollars? The National Checkoff program was established in 1983 by the Dairy & Tobacco Adjustment Act. It is a program whereby funds/assessments are deducted from producer’s milk checks for the specific purpose of building sales and demand for milk and dairy products.  The USDA oversees the checkoff program and plays a role in regulating consumer communication regarding dairy and other food commodities.

Where I farm, the Washington Dairy Products Commission and the Washington Dairy Council are certified by the USDA to carry out checkoff related programs on a local level. The Commission and Dairy Council collaborate with the national organization, Dairy Management, Inc. to build demand for dairy and protect the image of our industry. Checkoff dollars are used to:

  1. Build confidence in dairy to increase sales
  2. Defend our right to farm
  3. Create partnerships to build sales.  (i.e. Dominos Pizza and McDonalds)
  4. Stregthen community ties. (i.e. WIAA, NW Farmers Fighting Hunger)

As milk prices are forecasted to decline over the next 6 months, many farmers look to different assessments that are taken out of our milk check each month. While it would be easy to rationalize stopping the checkoff deduction, I like to acknowledge to my fellow dairy farmers the value of our Commission. While the work they do is not super flashy or spotlight grabbing, I feel it is crucial for our long term success as dairy farmers in the state of Washington. I also think it’s important to note that the Commission conducts year-round advertising and public relations, marketing promotions, issues management and crisis response initiatives, industry communications and public education campaigns directly mainly toward consumers.

So the next time you see a “Got Milk?” ad, remember dairy farmers are supporting this program with checkoff dollars. Our checkoff dollars are helping build and maintain a demand for dairy while building confidence in what we do.

I have 3 kids.  My 3 kids are all “double digits”.  This means they are ALWAYS hungry and when I get to Friday I am done.  As a dairy farmer, mom, taxi driver, volunteer at school…… I wear many hats and I am always going in at least 10 different directions. I do my best to prepare healthy nutritious meals for my family.  But I will be honest, by Friday I am dead tired and wishing the closest Fast Food place was not a 15 minute drive away.  Did I mention we live exactly 1/2 mile beyond the border of the local pizza delivery place. (You would think they would change that now that gas has dropped $2.00 per gallon).  Typically I treat Friday as a treat for my family.  This usually means pizza.  I can also manage to find Gluten Free pizza for my youngest who is on a special diet to help with his autism.  But now that I learn it is National Pizza week I will put my guilt aside and maybe do 2 nights of pizza!!  After all, it is a 3 day holiday weekend.  But for now, enjoy some pizza!!  Enjoy all that yummy cheese that was produced by some hard working dairy farmer!!

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Yummy!! Celebrate the 3 day weekend with some hot delicious pizza!!

My youngest child has autism.  He was officially diagnosed 6 1/2 years ago.  Like many parents, I KNEW something was not right with our youngest child.  He was not progressing and developing like my older 2 children.  He was exhibiting  the signs of autism I had read about in Parenting magazines and books.  While I was slowly coming to the realization of the challenges that were ahead, my toughest challenge was getting a confirmed diagnosis.

What happens when you get the “Official” diagnosis??  Well, if you are normal, you start to google everything you can about autism and how to fix it.  You probably buy the Jenny McCarthy book(s) that talk about her son.  You might join a few Yahoo groups to find comfort in numbers.  You can cry, yell, feel sorry for yourself, drink too much one night, and just basically try to do anything to wake yourself up from this nightmare.

I did all those things.  None of them worked and a few of them left me feeling like a truck ran over me.  When I realized that the answers did not lie with Yahoo groups or Google (Jenny McCarthy too), the real work began.  I have been working with different doctors, teachers, and mentors for 6 years to try and find the best treatment plan for our son.  It has not been easy and the work will never end.

If you have a child diagnosed with autism, the best thing to do is find someone who is on the same journey as you.  The news reports 1 in 88 children is diagnosed on the spectrum.  If that number is true it will not be difficult to find another family in the same situation.  Find a family that is using different ideas for treating autism.  I recommend staying away from those who advocate no vaccinations and ADD or ADHD medications.  Our son is on a Gluten, Dairy (I know the irony :-)), Soy, Nuts, Egg, and Legume free diet.  He also takes supplements each day to make up for those important vitamins and minerals he lacks.  Is everyday great??  NO.  But it is better than him screaming ALL day.  As I said, it is a journey and it is paved with lots of ups and downs.  You just need to ride out the lows to get to the highs.

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Joey and his siblings. Most people who meet him would never guess he is autistic.

 

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