It’s stupid for me to cry over a stainless-steel Sunset bulk milk tank. Nevertheless, the tears are as free flowing as the milk once was into the tanker truck bound for New York City. What gives you might ask?
The centerpiece of our family’s milk-house was loaded on a truck to Wisconsin on Saturday, putting an end to my legacy of being a dairy farmer. You see, “The Tank” stood as a proud monument and place holder for a possible return to milking cows, I thought might happen but never did.
The stark irony of the moment is the young, 20-something dairy farmer who put the tank in, is now the 57-year-old Pop Pop busting the same wall open and taking it out.
It doesn’t help that my reddened eyes are still haunted from witnessing my Grandfather William Bishopp weep over selling his precious golden Guernsey dairy cows because he couldn’t afford to go from cans to said bulk tank. Couple this with emotional memories of us selling our cows in the early 90’s when trying to raise a family on ten-dollar milk stored in a bulk tank that was unsustainable, and it’s no wonder I’m a basket-case over this piece of steel. It really shouldn’t be this hard but it seems to be a watershed moment.
I think busting out the first block of the milkhouse was the hardest. The years of utter hard work, sacrifice, spent money, disappointment, stops and starts, anger and finally acceptance, flooded into my body with every wield of the sledge. It was my metaphor for the five stages of grief, thirty years in the making. With every strike, I took on the burden of so many farmers before me who have been on dairy farming’s green mile, until the “wall” was gone. And there in that moment, a rush of clarity after the dust settled: The tank was in the way of change.
And just like that, a farmer grieves and moves on to the reality of a task. Knowing John Mapes Jr. of Midwest Dairy Supply in Wisconsin is an aficionado of “Sunsets” who will find the tank a good home on another farm, maple operation or bait shop, helps me to let go of our stalwart friend.
With the tank gone, the outdated Surge pipeline, vacuum pump, precooler and milking machines become obsolete. Seems so final as I hoist the tank on the waiting trailer next to its 800-gallon cousin harvested from a farm over the hill with circumstances much like our own. I have to believe that “Sunsets” are not metaphors for the end but hope for new beginnings.
Poet Maya Angelou said, “No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”
That tomorrow is here as we begin to transform the bulk tank footprint into freezer space for grass-finished, sun-infused hamburger sales and a studio for our barnwood creations and photography. It also looks like a fine opportunity to upcycle some milking equipment and provide a place to share stories and drink from our iconic spring.
If I can be completely honest, transformation and yet another change is hard for this farmer rooted in the history of one place. And most likely, when change has happened it won’t be long before the next generations see even more opportunities for transformation.
Without change, there would be no butterflies.