Cole Peters should’ve been at home fixing a tractor. Or mixing feed. Eric Wright should’ve been cleaning calf pens. Or working on equipment.
But on the Saturday after Christmas, both dairymen were in a church social hall with 90 other farmers and friends having a party to celebrate — well, to celebrate life.
Scroll down to see a slide show from the Farmer Christmas Party.
The afternoon Farmer Christmas Party was the brainchild of Cole’s sister, Jessica Peters. The siblings farm with their parents, Janet and Jeff, on a Jersey dairy in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
Jess Peters has a strong following among both farm and nonfarm folks on Facebook and Instagram, and she shares frequent updates from the farm, answering questions, showing the whole world the real life of a farmer, ups and downs, warts and all.
She also writes an occasional online post for Hoard’s Dairyman, and in November, she put it out there: Can the upcoming holidays be happy?
Many dairy farm families will open gifts as soon as they wake up this year, she wrote. And if you know dairy farming, you know that’s not a good thing. That’s because the cows are gone, and no one has to go out to the barn before the gift merrymaking can begin.
But while Peters is a realist, she’s not a pessimist. So instead of whining, she vowed to put that energy into making her little corner of the world brighter instead. It was time to party.
So she took to Facebook to plan a Farmer Christmas Party.
“It’s been a rough year, let’s kiss it goodbye in style,” she wrote.
“…I’m tired of worrying about milk prices and bills — this party is simply something awesome to look forward to and an excuse to have some fun.”
She shared the date and time for a potluck afternoon meal, and ended with a plea for some help. So I emailed her.
“I’m in,” I said. “Tell me how I can help.”
And that’s how I became the official photographer of the Farmer Christmas Party. Oh, and the coffee maker.
The day of the party, volunteers came early to set up tables and hang a few decorations. Then we waited. Would anyone show up?
“We never get together,” Jess Peters told me. “People have been looking forward to it.”
And that anticipation alone was a good thing. Something positive.
“We’re going to do it even if it’s just Cole and me sitting in this hall eating gummy bears,” Peters said.
But the people trickled in, carrying Crockpots and desserts and ice cream and drinks. Farmers. Former farmers. 4-H’ers. Local ag business owners.
And for one afternoon, everyone forgot about the mud and the crops still unharvested and low milk prices. They gathered to mingle and talk and laugh and catch up with neighbors. They were even good sports when I made everyone gather for a group photo. After all, this was a vibe — a bright spot — I wanted to preserve forever.
Cole Peters captured why dairy farmers persevere in the midst of bleak moments:
“At the end of the day, I still love it.”
But his mom Janet voiced perhaps the most important observation of the day.
“We’re all in it together, and you just need to voice it sometimes,” she said. “It might not help, but they need to know we’ll be there for each other.”
And that’s a great reason for anyone to have a party.
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