I met Mike Eby, a seventh-generation Lancaster County dairy farmer three years ago at a farm show in Pennsylvania. He impressed me with his thorough understanding of the milk industry and how prices are determined for producers. But what I remembered most about our first conversation was his unbridled passion for passing on the dairy farm to his son, Jackson. We have kept in touch over the years, and his drive to hand the family farm over to his children is even stronger today. I asked Mike, “Why is it so important to pass the farm along to your son, or to all the children?” He replied, “The first passed it to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth, the fourth to the fifth, the fifth to the sixth, the sixth to the seventh. Where does that leave me? I can’t be the generation to drop the ball.”
Like many fathers, Mike’s commitment to saving the family farm is difficult and requires lobbying before farm organizations. Serving as chairman of the board for the National Dairy Producers Organization, Mike recently traveled to Burlington, Vermont, to testify on behalf of the Northeast Dairy Farmers in their suit against Dairy Farmers of America. Jackson accompanied Mike to hearings in Washington, DC, where he testified before lawmakers on the recent Farm bill. He took his son because the presence of a young man aspiring to take over the family farm would create attention and be quite effective.
The farm has been in the family for almost 200 years. Mike fondly remembers his Grandpa’s continued involvement in the farm after it was turned over to his dad, Mel. After retiring, Grandpa still baled hay and kept the 100-plus year-old Concord grapevine trimmed. In 1999, Mike and his wife Lynette joined Eby Family Farm – Pequea Registered Holsteins. They lived off the farm for the first six years of marriage but returned to the home place to raise their family and milk cows.
The entire Eby family is involved in farming. Mel still helps on the farm when needed. The three oldest children, Bethany 19, Mikayla 18, and Jackson, 15, all help milk. Sara, 11, does her part by feeding calves. The Eby family has a unique way of determining the weekly milking schedule. Every Sunday after church they go out to lunch and decide who has milking duties for the next week. In the summer, the family also shows cows at county fairs.
Whether showing cows or milking with his kids, Mike views himself as a lucky father because he gets to spend time with his family. I asked Mike, “What pleasures do you derive from working with your children every day on the farm?” His response, “Nothing beats walking in from the barn arm in arm. My oldest daughter even claims she can go to the barn grumpy and come out happy.”
It is a pleasure to know fathers like Mike who can make their teenagers happy and are dedicated to carrying on their heritage.
Cover Photo by futureimage/istock, monica-photo/istock