People often ask me how I like farming 'down here' - with 'down here' referring to Stearns County - as compared to farming 'up north,' in Aitkin County where I was raised and we started farming.

My response to the question has varied. Sometimes I mention missing my family or the peace and quiet of farming in the north woods. Sometimes I mention how much I enjoy being in an area with strong dairy infrastructure.

What I've come to realize in the past several months, though, is that what I really like about farming in Stearns County is the sense of community among dairy farmers.

When we were farming 'up north', we were part of a different sort of community. There weren't any neighbors down the road milking cows; there weren't any other neighbors in the whole township milking cows. We relied on a long-distance community of sorts.

When we were faced with an animal health situation, we e-mailed a friend of ours, who also happened to be a large animal veterinarian. Sometimes we'd send digital pictures to help explain the situation. He'd e-mail us back, or call if the situation was urgent enough, with his recommendations.

Most of our dairy-related conversations, outside of those with each other and my father, were held over the phone - with fellow farmers from other parts of the county and state.

We were overwhelmed if we had one salesman stop in, let alone two. The pace of farm life was slower. Mid-morning naps were enjoyed uninterrupted. I walked around the house in my underwear without a single thought about who might be stopping in.

Our only regular visitor was my grandfather, who came up to the farm every morning to check in on us and help with whatever he could. And if we were napping and didn't hear him come in, he'd quietly wait for us.

The physical isolation from other dairy farmers was, at times, lonely. But it also gave us a chance to sort out the changes farming had brought to our marriage.

Moving to Stearns County, for me, was a bit like diving head first into a pool of everything dairy.

We counted eight visitors in one day - everyone from neighbors to salesmen to consultants - shortly after we moved to our farm. We couldn't believe it. We've since stopped counting.

It now seems like a day without two visitors and ten phone calls is an oddity. We went three days one week without a single missed call on the Caller ID; Glen finally announced that the phone must be broken.

Our field rep stopped in unannounced one morning. I was still walking around in my long johns and a t-shirt - not underwear, and two layers of long johns, no less. After he left, Glen said he just about choked when I came around the corner wearing nothing but long johns (and a t-shirt, mind you).

I've since learned to keep a set of clothes in the bathroom for those mornings when someone pulls into the yard and I'm still eating breakfast in my long underwear.

I've also learned to really appreciate being a dairy farmer in a neighborhood where everybody, it seems, milks cows or once did.

Whether it's borrowing a manure spreader or bringing the heifers home from pasture or finding someone to watch Dan for a little while, there's always a neighbor to turn to for help.

We've developed friendships with several other young farmers conquering the same challenges we are - and they're all just a short drive away.

And when Dimple or Ginny or Hopscotch falls ill, we can call the vet clinic and a real live veterinarian comes out to the farm. (We still utilize our e-vet service every now and then, but it's nice to have an expert available for tangible examinations.)

We can also call upon our nutritionist and crop consultant and field representative. These people don't just help us fix the problem at hand, they're helping us learn the skills necessary for success in an ever-changing, increasingly challenging industry.

Our farm business management instructor from 'up north' must have decided he really liked us, because he still comes down to help us out once a month, too.

Several years ago, a national politician popularized the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child."

Based on my experiences farming both in relative isolation and right in the 'thick of things,' I've made the conclusion that it truly does take a community to raise a young dairy farmer.

The Next Generation blog

One of the reasons I agreed to work with the Dairy Star's new online community for young dairy farmers is my hope that this online community can provide the sort of support for young dairy farmers that we so needed - and still do need - during our first years farming.

I can't tell you how many times I turned to Google for information about one issue or another. I found plenty to read online, but the best information I ever collected came in the form of answers to questions I asked of other farmers and industry experts within the network of our community.

If you're one of the people we've relied for help in one form or another over the past three-and-a-half years - thank you. Your names are far too numerous to mention, but you know who you are.

And if you're cruising around online sometime this week, I invite you to pay a visit to our new blog on the Dairy Star's Web site.

The proximity of community isn't as important as its mere existence, but having a few other dairy farmers around sure is nice.