There’s no doubt the U.S. dairy industry has a tremendous amount of resiliency. We work together day in and day out to get fresh milk from the farm to the consumer. There are many links to the dairy supply chain, and sometimes kinks arise in the form of adversity.

It often surprises people when they find out that the majority of MDVA’s members are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist communities. Known for the strength of their “barn raisings,” the Amish foster their resiliency through a commitment to tradition, faith, and communal bonds.

Farmers building a barn after a fire
A barn in Pennsylvania on a member farm is built back within days thanks to the community coming together to help.

Late evening on December 29, 2023, a fire ripped through the barn of an MDVA member in Manheim, Pennsylvania. Only 22 of the 70-cow herd survived. “I learned of the barn fire via a local news media post on Facebook that Saturday morning,” said MDVA Field Rep Becca Fultz, “As soon as I saw the pictures of the burning barn, I knew exactly which farm it was before I read the description and my heart immediately ached for them.”

There were so many people from all walks of life working in an organized manner across the farm. In the barn removing the destroyed remnants, moving heavy equipment in to continue the clean-up effort, a group with blueprints figuring out the next moves to re-build, and the garage was bustling with a crew making sure everyone on site had food, water, and any other resources they needed. The amount of love, community, support, and resiliency witnessed was impactful.

With the help of their fellow Amish, the barn was completely rebuilt and filled with cows by January 11 – only 12 days later.

“I feel absolutely blessed,” the farm family said. “I cannot imagine doing this without my community. I don’t think we would have had an opportunity to milk cows again. My community stuck by me and I’m very appreciative of that.”

The Amish community doesn’t only extend support to their own, they also support the broader farm community. In September 2021 an EF-3 tornado aligned perfectly with MDVA members, Wellacrest Farm, in New Jersey, destroying numerous barns and buildings. Help arrived swiftly from neighboring Amish communities as people aged 9 to 70 worked together to start building back the barns. The public also assisted by pouring over $120,000 into a GoFundMe campaign for another barn to be built later that spring. After twelve weeks of construction, several freshly built barns, painted an eye-catching shade of blue, emerged from the rubble of New Jersey’s largest dairy.

Milk processing plants, have weathered their own storms. Late on a Saturday night in September 2018, a heavy rainstorm hit Newport News, dropping multiple inches of water in a matter of hours. At the Maola Milk processing plant the night shift was just wrapping up their tasks when the crate room roof suddenly collapsed, the roof drains unable to hold up under the torrent coming down.

Amidst the wreckage of the collapsed roof, a sense of urgency and determination lingered in the air. The storm had dealt a heavy blow, but no one was hurt, and the resilience of the workers and the cooperative was unwavering. As the debris was cleared and the rebuilding process commenced, there was a shared commitment to restoring the plant and improving efficiency.

In a parallel narrative unfolding across the dairy industry, the recent school milk carton shortage posed a distinct challenge. Yet, amidst the scarcity, MDVA emerged ready to help.

When a fellow cooperative faced the daunting prospect of navigating the shortage, MDVA stepped up to the plate. Through careful planning and a bit of luck, we transitioned to a new supplier of milk cartons just before the shortage, MDVA happened to have a large surplus that was not being used.

MDVA facilitated the acquisition and distribution of seven million milk cartons to the partner cooperative, ensuring that dairy products were still able to reach the hands of students – including in New York City public schools.

In a landscape fraught with challenges, MDVA’s proactive approach not only alleviated the impact of the shortage but also fostered a sense of unity among cooperatives. As cartons bearing the Maola logo graced young students’ hands at their lunch tables in the bustling metropolis, they carried with them a story of perseverance and collaboration – a narrative woven by the threads of resilience.

a boy stands on a fence held by his mother with his father watching on
Tate Wetmore, 1, looks out at his family’s farm in North Carolina. Tate recovered from premature birth with remarkable speed and resilience.

Another tie that binds the dairy community together leads us to North Carolina, to the home of Steven and Kira Wetmore, a young dairy couple who faced an unexpected trial when their son arrived prematurely. Kira, the Dairy Manager at the Piedmont Research Station (MDVA Member), oversees day-to-day operations and a team of nine employees. On what seemed like a routine day in June 2022, Kira found herself confronting the birth of their son, Tate, at just 24 weeks old. Despite the overwhelming circumstances, they navigated the delicate balance between work and caregiving, dedicating themselves to tending to their newborn while upholding their responsibilities on the dairy farm.

Kira made the tough decision to return to work after only 3 weeks so that she could save her maternity leave for when Tate finally came home. Despite the overwhelming circumstances, Kira was able to work out a schedule with the Research Station, working Monday through Friday until 1 PM, and then joining Steven to go visit Tate at the hospital. Both parents will tell you Tate gets his fighting spirit from them, “We’re both kind of stubborn, and he’s stubborn.”

It’s with that fighting spirit that Tate returned home after 120 days in the hospital. Tate, a now almost two-year-old, is a normal, happy toddler. You would never know that two years ago it would have been questionable if there would be lifelong effects. In the face of their adversity, the Wetmore’s love and resilience illuminated a path forward, inspiring those around them to face their own adversities.

These stories of resilience in the dairy industry have showcased a remarkable ability to overcome adversity and thrive in the face of challenges. From dairy processors who have weathered storms to families who have overcome all odds, they have shown an unwavering determination to keep the industry alive and thriving.

Each story serves as a reminder that resilience is not just about bouncing back from setbacks, but also about embracing change and finding innovative solutions. As we reflect on these tales of resilience, let us applaud the dairy industry for its ability to adapt and endure, and let us continue to support and celebrate the hardworking individuals who make our dairy products possible.