Building connections in an isolating industry

Boehlke plans gathering for dairy women

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THORP, Wis. — Dairy farming can be an isolating career, and while the advent of social media may ease that isolation, a lack of personal interaction is felt by many dairy farmers.

That hole spurred Melissa Boehlke into action. Boehlke has been a member of the Dairy Moms Facebook group for the past four years. The group, launched by Ohio dairy farmer Jodi McDonnell in 2017, has become a sounding board for more than 4,900 dairy industry women from around the globe.

“There are all these amazing women in the Dairy Moms group, and you begin to feel like you have a close connection with many of them even though you’ve never met,” Boehlke said. “There is a real camaraderie there. Sometimes it’s hard to have someone to talk to who understands the pressures of farming, and those women provide that.”

Boehlke milks 65 cows with her husband, Dave, and step-son, Dan, on their dairy farm near Thorp.

The idea to host a get-together has been simmering in her mind for the past year or two, Boehlke said.

“Many of the ladies are from this area of Wisconsin, and while I know a lot of them personally, I realized there are probably more who I have never met, even though they live relatively close to me,” Boehlke said. “I thought it would be a good idea to have a gathering to meet in person.”

Boehlke decided there was no time like the present to throw herself into planning a gathering. Boehlke will host an in-person event for the group Feb. 15.

“Last spring, I was involved with planning the state meeting for the Wisconsin Jersey Breeders Association, and I realized that planning gatherings doesn’t have to be any harder than you make it,” Boehlke said.

Keeping it simple has been Boehlke’s guiding principle for setting up the gathering.

“I thought about going the route of getting a meal catered in, but I also wanted to be mindful of keeping the cost of the event down,” Boehlke said. “I didn’t want to have to charge to cover the cost of anything. Times are particularly tight right now for anyone involved in dairy farming, and I didn’t want cost to be anything that prohibited someone from attending.”

While she did not solicit donations to offset the cost of the event, Boehlke said she was surprised when donations were extended.

“Joe’s Refrigeration and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin heard about the gathering and contacted me about helping to offset the costs of the event,” Boehlke said. “That was great to receive that support.”

Boehlke is asking event attendees to bring a dish to pass for a potluck meal.

“I’m not having a signup or assigning certain dishes to certain parts of the alphabet,” Boehlke said. “I hate the idea of telling someone what they need to bring. I want everyone to bring something they enjoy making.”

Most of the day will focus on fellowship and building personal relationships, Boehlke said.

“I thought about having a speaker or something more structured, but I decided that for this one, I wanted to focus on personal interaction rather than sitting there and listening to someone else talk,” Boehlke said.

Boehlke is hoping for an open discussion forum that is conversational.

“We’ll have some discussion starting topics and encourage others to bring ideas as well,” Boehlke said. “People can ask questions to get group feedback and opinion, either in person or anonymously, writing their question on paper.”

Besides food and fellowship, Boehlke will provide materials for stenciling crafts. Wood will be provided. If someone would like to decorate a cutting board or another wooden object, she encourages them to bring it along.

“I just really want this to be a laid-back fun day, one where we can all just relax, be ourselves, meet new friends and enjoy each other’s company,” Boehlke said. “Dairy farming is so stressful, and the isolation that you can feel, especially during the long winter months, doesn’t help. I don’t know where this will go. I hope it grows into a regular thing that we can all look forward to and, at the very least, put a smile on the faces of some central Wisconsin dairy moms.”

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