NEWTON FALLS, Ohio — Susan Montgomery, of Montgomery Dairy Farm, recognized people from at least four counties at Faces Lounge. They were all there to help the Montgomery family bring their milking cows back home.
Susan, her husband, Richard, and their children are the fourth and fifth generations on the farm. It’s the last remaining dairy farm in the township. But the milking cows have been off of the farm since early February. That’s because the Montgomerys don’t have anywhere to put them, after the roof of the milking barn collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and ice. Since then, the family has been trying to recover.
Their community stepped up to help May 15, with a benefit at the lounge in Newton Falls, including a live auction, basket raffle and more, to help the Montgomerys cover the costs of a new milking barn and lost income from those few months.
Accepting that kind of help is a first for the Montgomerys, Susan said. But the community support has also been healing for the family, and has shown them than the people around them value having agriculture in the area.
“We had to learn how to just say ‘thank you,’” Susan said.
It happened Feb. 5, in the afternoon, not long after a heavy snowstorm. Susan and Richard Montgomery were in their house. They looked out the window once, and the cows were all where they were supposed to be. Everything looked fine. Minutes later, Richard looked outside again. The roof was down.
“We had to get cows out immediately,” Susan said. “It wasn’t a very good scene.”
Getting the cows out and taken care of took all day. Seven fire departments responded to help. A veterinarian was on site. There were 80 cows in the barn. They lost 12 of them. But the Montgomerys quickly realized they didn’t have anywhere to keep the 68 milking cows who survived. They started making phone calls, and, Susan said, “the farm community showed up in droves.”
The Montgomerys stayed on the phone until they found farms that had the facilities and labor available to take their milking cows. People came with trailers. The barn beside it, which had the dry cows, didn’t go down, but some of the trusses broke and had to be replaced.
Three months later, the milking cows are still at the other farms. That means the Montgomerys have been without their milking income for that long.
“A lot of people don’t connect that is our business,” Susan said. “The year-long income is our cattle … life’s changed real quick.”
It took a while to find contractors to rebuild the barn. It seemed like a lot of contractors were more interested in new projects, rather than building on an existing foundation, and for a while, it was difficult to even get quotes, Susan said. Plus, construction costs jumped during the pandemic.
“We were prepared for pre-covid prices, but when you have an emergency … you can’t wait six or eight months,” she said.
Finally, they found someone who could do the work. Now, both of the buildings have roofs up again, but the insides of the buildings are not finished, and the farm still needs to buy some supplies to finish them. Insurance has helped, but it doesn’t cover everything, especially with the lost income. They’re also in the middle of planting season right now.
“It’s just everything’s hitting at one time,” Susan said. “But we’re optimistic.”
A committee of about 20 people put together the benefit. Cyndi Hogue, a friend of the Montgomerys, approached Vonda Vencel, another friend, who owns Faces Lounge with her husband, John, about having a fundraiser for the farm. Vencel has hosted other benefits for community members in need over the years.
“I would hate to see it [the farm] leave,” Vencel said. “And they really want to stay farmers.”
The Newton Falls Montgomery Farm Fund is still open for donations. Anyone who wants to support the farm can donate to the fund at any Huntington Bank, or by mail directly to 3179 state Route 534, Newton Falls, OH 44444.
Michael Carano, one of the organizers for the event, was the auctioneer for the day.
“All the money goes to bring home the girls,” he told attendees at the beginning of the auction. “So please be generous.”
They were. The event brought out somewhere between 300 and 400 people, Vencel said. Organizers also got 180 donated baskets for the raffle -— they were aiming for 100 — and a wide range of items donated for the auction, and for a bake sale. The committee also set up a fund for the farm at Huntington Bank.
“Everybody, like I said, has just really, really come forward and donated,” Hogue said. “It’s the last remaining dairy farm in our township, so we’re striving to keep it viable.”
Last dairy farm
In the farm’s area, there is about one dairy farm per township left. Montgomery Dairy Farm is the last in Newton Township. Dairy farms have shut down right and left in the last few decades. When the crisis happened, the family had to talk seriously about whether they would be able to stay in the dairy business.
“It was kind of a big decision, but it also wasn’t, because it’s what we do,” Susan said.
They’re not sure exactly when the cows will come home. It’s been a long, stressful three months, and it’s hard to know how long it will take to fully recover. But they’re going forward, and they have hope.
“We’ve never said we were done,” Susan said. “We were always confident for as hard as the dairy industry is right now, that we somehow, some way would make it work, go forward, get our girls back and keep going.”
The community support has been huge, too. The farm is one of the longest standing businesses in the community, and has existed in some form since before 1900.
“Every day, something comes through that shows it will happen,” Susan said. “They’re not causing us to stay in business, but to want us to not have to struggle so hard to be able to do that shows they value agriculture in the community … that means the world to us.”
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