Desperate Dairy Farmers turn to GoFundMe Campaigns in hopes of saving their farms and livelihood.
Theresa Depies never imagined starting a GoFundMe campaign to help save her dairy farm. Hundreds of donations later, and blended with other help, she had raised $165,510 to keep Springbrook Organic Dairy from closing less than a week before a foreclosure auction.
“We were getting very scared because people were already coming to look at the farm ahead of the auction. That made it very real. That freaked us out,” Depies said.
Springbrook, in Washburn County, is one of thousands of farms nationwide that have used GoFundMe to raise money to stay in business or to get through a crisis.
On its website, GoFundMe boasts that it has raised billions of dollars for charitable causes since 2010. Through the service, people can donate directly to individuals in need, like victims of Hurricane Florence.
There are now more than 2,500 U.S. dairy farms on the website, with some farmers urgently appealing for help after their finances were ruined by three years of low milk prices.
“I have never asked for a handout, but I can’t keep borrowing money to pay for things,” one Wisconsin farmer wrote. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for even considering helping us continue our journey.”
Springbrook was hit by a confluence of events, including a multi-year drought that wiped out its grazing pasture and added $200,000 in hay costs.
Struck with Lyme disease that was undiagnosed for years, Theresa Depies’ husband, Jeff Depies, was barely able to work.
“When you’re a farmer, your self-worth is based on how much you can get done in a day. When you can’t do anything for months, and that turns into years, it’s ugly,” Theresa Depies said.
She spent months putting together a GoFundMe campaign, beginning last year, telling the farm’s story in words, pictures and a video.
It worked. Donations poured in as people learned of the farm’s plight. Much of the money was raised locally, but some of it came from out-of-state and even overseas.
“I was surprised at the generosity of people. And I was surprised at the people who did not support us,” Depies said.
The campaign didn’t offer any perks, like a T-shirt or a hat for pitching in a few bucks.
“There were no ‘name-a-calf rights,’ nothing like that,” Depies said.
But the farm has a cheese and yogurt plant supplying local grocery stores, and that helped because customers at least knew and trusted the Springbrook name.
The campaign, along with other donations and personal loans, generated enough cash to reach a $169,510 settlement on about $340,000 in federal Farm Service Agency debt.
Still, it left Depies feeling down. She never imagined turning to GoFundMe donors to keep from losing the farm.
“I felt a huge sadness after the campaign. I felt shame,” she said.
And yet, saddled with low milk prices, debt and high operating costs, thousands of dairy farms have folded. Wisconsin lost 500 in 2017 alone, according to state records, and about 430 closed in the first eight months of this year.
As farms struggle for survival, Depies said, they ought to consider crowdfunding for things such as establishing a cheese plant to generate more income, or growing produce for local grocery stores and individual consumers.
Reach out to people and let them be part of your business plan, she suggested.
“I will never go to a lender again,” Depies said, though she doesn’t blame the USDA Farm Service Agency for her trouble.
Such efforts are not a panacea.
Many farms that launch GoFundMe campaigns raise only a few thousand dollars, or in some cases, nothing.
But in Door County, Dale and Karen Cihlar have generated $92,000 from a campaign aimed at saving their 145-year-old dairy farm that milks about 30 cows.
Their financial trouble began after they took out a loan to put in a manure storage system.
Milk prices crashed and they struggled to make loan payments and cover their bills.
Source: Journal Sentinel