Dairy farmers often say they work 24/7/365. Vacations are rare and time off the farm is unusual. So. what happens when a dairy farmer retires? Can someone who works from sun up to sun down and beyond just sit back and enjoy their retirement when they’re done farming?
Simply put, the answer is no…
For retired dairy farmer Erin Barkey, realizing she had time to spare meant she had the opportunity to help the next generation understand their connection to agriculture and how it impacts their lives.
“I want people to know how much agriculture touches their lives, minute by minute,” said Barkey. “A cow is more than just a cow, and I love being able to open people’s eyes and minds to that statement.”
In order to do that, Barkey spends her time volunteering and working for several agriculture organizations.
“I want to share my dairy farmer friend’s stories!” explains Barkey.
Barkey currently sits on the advisory board for Colorado Foundation for Agriculture. By doing so, she has the opportunity to share information with the teachers and the public about agriculture, including sending a monthly reader to the elementary schools. These readers share information and stories about all the different pieces of agriculture – from natural resources to water to commodities like corn and milk.
“We really want to highlight anybody that has anything to do with agriculture and share those stories with teachers and students,” said Barkey.
The Colorado Foundation for Agriculture also holds a summer institute where they host teachers from Colorado who want to earn 3 credit hours through CSU by learning about ag. The teachers spend a week learning about agriculture and how to integrate agricultural information into their classrooms. Barkey particularly enjoys helping at the summer institutes, because she knows that not only are the teachers are going to take the information with them when they go back home so their students can learn about where their food comes from, but seeing the teachers themselves understand the impact agriculture has on their lives is very rewarding.
“It’s awesome to see how the teachers come in on Monday, then on Friday they have a 360 degree change in their attitude towards agriculture.” Barkey says. “They see how it is totally integrated in their everyday living from the time they get up until they go to bed. They don’t think of agriculture as just farmers anymore but understand how smart, innovative and in tune with technology our farmers are.”
Barkey also works part time at Western Dairy, traveling across the state and sometimes up to Wyoming with June, the Amazing Animatronic Cow. Barkey spends hours talking to consumers at events and schools about where their milk comes from and about what modern dairy farming is like – all while giving kids and adults the opportunity to milk a cow.
And Barkey can speak to everything she talks about from personal experience, because not only is she a retired dairy farmer, but she has spent her whole life in dairy, growing up on her parent’s dairy farm in Weldona, Colo. Once she was married, she and her husband Denny started their own dairy.
“Seeing newborn baby calves, raising them and watching coming into production as heifers and filling every expectation of a dairy cow is something I miss,” reflected Barkey. “Seeing them turn into awesome heifers that produce milk for our families and communities is one of the best things in life to witness.”
Though retiring from dairy farming is heavy on her heart, Barkey isn’t missing a beat and will continue to make sure her community knows how important farmers are to society.
Even when a dairy farmer retires – they don’t truly stop or even slow down. They spend their whole lives working hard to provide you and your family with a healthy and nutritious product and then some, like Barkey, spend their retirement continuing to share the story of dairy and agriculture because passion never fades away.