In our area of the dairy world, meaning southwest Minnesota or northwest Iowa, everyone knows Carolyn Bootsma.
    She was the AMPI field representative for 26 years. But, even if you did not ship milk to AMPI, or did not even milk cows but are involved in the dairy industry, you still knew Carolyn.
    Carolyn did not only do her job on AMPI farms. She attended industry meetings, county fair dairy shows for the kids, June breakfast on the farm events and anything else remotely related to dairy. I know for a fact she was invited to many weddings, and attended visitations and anniversary parties.
    I invited Carolyn to my office for a little sit-down interview for this article. She retired from her field rep job a few weeks ago, and I felt she deserved some extra recognition for an outstanding career serving dairy farmers and their families. She told me stories I cannot write about. We reminisced about past plant managers and milk haulers, and the angst milk inspectors brought on all of us. She also told me she always tried to answer her phone day or night, including weekends and holidays.
    But, over and over, Carolyn emphasized the job was a joy because of the dairy families she worked with.
    Before becoming a field rep for AMPI, Carolyn was a DHIA tester in northwest Iowa for nine years. She had taken that job so she could pay Christian school tuition for her three children. At that time, she and her husband milked 50 cows. One of her customers, Leroy Eggink, from Sibley, Iowa, urged her to apply for the field rep job when it opened up. She was immediately interested because she loved working with dairy farmers, plus it was full time with health insurance for her family. She did not immediately get hired, but with persistence eventually she landed the job. Since then she has worked under five plant managers.
    Twenty-six years ago, when Carolyn started, she had 160 farms all within 90 minutes of the home plants in Sanborn and Sibley, Iowa. She estimated she signed up 90 new farms that started milking or came from competing milk buyers. By the time she retired, she had 90 farms left in a three-hour radius of Sanborn. Many dairy farms have been lost in this area in 26 years which mirrors a national trend and gives me pause to think of one of my favorite sayings, “Everyone used to milk cows.”
    Field rep jobs like Carolyn’s are not easy. She is employed by the company to carry out the company directives on milk quality, milk temperatures, milk pricing and hauling issues. She often needs to be a mediator when disagreements come between the producer and the milk hauler. What really makes the job hard is the longer you work with the producer families that sell milk to the company, the more you become friends with those families. Sometimes it is hard being in the middle of the company that writes your paycheck and the family struggling to pay the bills from the milk check.
    Carolyn was one of those friends I never wanted to have my caller ID saying it was her calling me. The less I saw and heard from her, the better. It was not that I disliked her, but when she called it usually meant there was a problem with my milk in some way, shape or form. It was always a pleasant surprise if she called and said she was just in the area and was stopping for a visit to catch up on the latest. Last winter, when our previous calf raiser retired, we started up with a new calf raiser and had some problems with high bacteria counts in the colostrum. Carolyn again went above and beyond her duties to collect and send in multiple samples until we had the problem under control. One of the more challenging field rep jobs in the last couple of years has been implementing a program called FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management). This involves meeting with every producer to document that they are doing their best to take care of their animals. Mainly it involves how producers handle non-ambulatory animals and making sure animals are not abused in any way. Obviously dairy farmers want the healthiest animals possible, but new ideas and protocols can be a good thing.
    Looking forward to another three-year certification round of FARM made her think more about retiring. I think Carolyn tried her best for AMPI, the milk haulers, the large and small producers she served, and most of all she served the individual people and families involved in the dairy industry.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.