September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Coming full circle
Socha, Volden return to local farm after college
Grace Volden (left) and Maggie Socha show off one of the cows July 25 at Green Waves Dairy near St. Michael, Minnesota. Volden and Socha work as full-time employees alongside Mark and David Berning, the owners of Green Waves Dairy. (PHOTO BY ALEX MIDDENDORF)
ST. MICHAEL, Minn. — As high school students, Maggie Socha and Grace Volden spent time working together at Green Waves Dairy near St. Michael.
Socha, being a year older, soon ventured to South Dakota State University to obtain a degree in dairy production. Volden followed in her footsteps, also attending SDSU to major in animal science.
While at college, the two young agriculture enthusiasts again found themselves immersed in the dairy industry, working together at a dairy farm near their college campus.
Today, having both graduated with their respective degrees, the two young women have come full circle and returned to the dairy farm they worked at in high school, this time as full-time employees.
Green Waves Dairy is owned by Mark and David Berning, a father-son duo who milk 480 cows and farm 750 acres. Together with Socha and Volden, the four make up the staff of full-time employees.
Grace Volden places an ear tag on a calf July 25 at Green Waves Dairy near St. Michael, Minnesota. Volden cares for the calves on the farm up until they reach 6 months of age when they are transferred to a heifer-raising facility.
(PHOTO BY ALEX MIDDENDORF
“The timing for me was perfect,” Socha said. “They were looking; I was looking.”
Socha reflected back to her time searching for her dream job after college and said she appreciates her connection that remained with the Berning family.
“I knew what I was getting into here,” Socha said. “I worked here throughout high school and during my college breaks. I had worked with David and Mark before and got along with them; I liked how they managed things, making the position here just a good fit overall.”
After Socha had been employed at Green Waves Dairy for roughly a year following her college graduation, Volden graduated and was also seeking employment.
“Our other full-time employee was in the process of leaving, and we were trying to fill the position,” Socha said. “I knew Grace was looking for a job, so I told Grace to talk to David about filling that position.”
Although the open position was not exactly what Volden was looking for, the Bernings were willing to adapt the role and shuffle responsibilities and job duties in order for the role to fit Volden’s passions.
“They were looking for full-time help, so I came back,” Volden said. “Knowing who I was going to be working with was a huge deal for me and was one of the reasons I ended up back here.”
David Berning (from left), Grace Volden and Maggie Socha gather together June 28 at Green Waves Dairy near St. Michael, Minnesota. The women worked together at Berning’s farm in high school and now work there full time after graduating from college. (PHOTO BY ALEX MIDDENDORF)
Today, both Socha and Volden work alongside each other on the farm, performing their different responsibilities. Socha manages the cows, milking and the robotic milking system while Volden focuses on calf care and feeding.
“Another reason I came back to this dairy is the size,” Socha said. “The number of cows I get to work with is big enough that I get to work with a variety of cows, but I still get to know all of them.”
The cattle at Green Waves Dairy are milked on eight Lely robots. The youngstock are raised on the farm from birth until roughly 6 months of age. From there, the farm utilizes a local heifer-growing facility where their calves are raised until they are confirmed pregnant at which time they return to the farm.
Volden oversees the care of the young calves up until the point where they are sent to the raising facility.
“Right now, we are kind of on an overfill with heifer calves; we have 25 heifer calves this month so far,” Volden said. “They all stay up in the robot barn for about a week, and then they move to the calf barn where they are on automatic feeders.”
Outside of their responsibilities on the farm, the two women have grown a friendship throughout their years of working together.
Maggie Socha sorts through computer data July 25 at Green Waves Dairy near St. Michael, Minnesota. Socha’s responsibilities on the farm include managing the cows and the robotic milking system. (PHOTO BY ALEX MIDDENDORF)
“We work together, but we are also best friends,” Socha said. “Not many people get the opportunity to work with their best friend every day.”
After having worked together for so many years, Socha and Volden said they truly have grown their friendship alongside their careers.
“Our situation is unique in the aspect that we have worked together in high school, then college and now again after we have graduated,” Socha said.
“We truly know each other, maybe even a little bit too well,” Volden said.
Both women are planning to continue their employment at Green Waves Dairy for the foreseeable future and said they are excited to see the continued growth and improvement of the dairy. Socha said she can see the progress the farm has made since she started working there at the age of 15.
“Coming back, it has been so rewarding to see that progress,” Socha said. “When I started, we did not have any robots, and we milked in a parlor in an old brick barn.”
Socha looks back at that time and remembers the farm’s transition into a robot facility, starting with four units and adding an additional four.
“They have also made a lot of improvements on the calf barn,” Socha said. “They have also made genetic improvements on the cows as well. Watching the herd get better and finding ways to improve and push things to become more efficient and progressive has been truly rewarding.”
In addition to seeing the progression the farm has made, Volden said she appreciates the opportunities the farm has given her after college.
“The most rewarding aspect of coming back to this farm is being able to apply things that I learned,” Volden said. “Going to college, sometimes we kind of think we will never use this again, but I have been able to apply a lot of what I learned in school here on the farm.”
In the future, Socha and Volden said they hope to continue to see the farm progress in different aspects.
“We are working to continue improving things on the cows and the calves to raise a more productive and efficient herd,” Socha said. “We hope to continue to be the ones who make the management decisions that would influence that and keep improving from there.”