Karen Bohnert of East Moline, Illinois, is a second-generation dairy farmer living life, raising three kids and running the farm, Bohnerts’ Jerseys, with her husband. The Bohnert family perseveres, no matter the challenges being faced. The family embodies the resilient spirit of U.S. dairy and continually demonstrates this as they embrace the challenges in their way. Their story, like that of many dairy farmers, is one of strength that many can learn from.
In July 2019, the Bohnerts’ heifer barn caught fire. In the 11-hour blaze, two barns, two skid loaders and the entirety of the farm’s hay, straw, cottonseed and bedding supply were lost. With 200 heifers needing a new location, employees scheduled to arrive at work and snap decisions needing to be made, the Bohnerts remained standing, motivated to continue forward.
“The day of the fire, the kids never once complained. They all pitched in and helped out. They saw uncertainty in their parents’ eyes, but they also saw their sheer will and determination, and we honestly tried to use all of that to navigate us.” Karen says.
It was this will and determination, coupled with an outpouring of support from the community, that jumpstarted the cleanup process. Four local farms volunteered space to house the misplaced heifers, the employees continued to milk cows and feed calves as usual, and various community members stood ready with helping hands.
“Watching multiple generations work together towards a common goal of making a better community gives me hope. The days before and after the fire, our kids illustrated qualities that make me so proud as a mother. Our life will forever be divided before and after the barn fire, but after showcased a new level of dedication and commitment that has fueled us ahead.”
Tragedy is rarely expected, but it can be planned for. In the aftermath of the fire, Karen offers encouragement and advice to others who are preparing for difficult situations or find themselves in one.
“Solid communication. Don’t over think. Update policies. Pace yourselves. The road ahead is long, pace yourself for the marathon ahead. Extend grace, not your fist. Accept help. When we were in crisis mode, we could only see so far.”
With the fire behind them, the Bohnerts began to rebuild. But it wasn’t long before another curveball came in the form of COVID-19 entering the Chicagoland area, bringing financial uncertainties and further slowing the Bohnerts’ progress. Despite this added obstacle, the Bohnerts continue to press on, choosing to focus on their “whys”: A commitment to curbing food insecurity for people in need, providing necessary resources to ensure their workers and families have some sense of security in uncertain times, and helping to produce essential dairy products for local community schools serving students nutritious meals.
Bohnerts’ Jerseys will continue to rebuild one day at a time with a priority of nourishing and caring for the community around it. Even when times are tough, Karen remains hopeful for the future of her farm, her community and the U.S. dairy industry.
“We must continue to dig deep and plow ahead and have faith that better days will come. The world needs farmers now more than ever before. I understand the pressure on America’s dairy farmers, but we can either sit back and watch the pot boil or have faith that, with time, infused with our sure will and dedication to care for our cattle, land and family, that better days will come.”