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Retreats aim to help farm couples communicate, network

Minnesota and Iowa both offer free weekends to help farm couples set goals, share insights and talk about the struggles of a family farm.

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Angie and David Tauer have a dairy farm at Hanksa, Minnesota. Submitted photo
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ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Angie Tauer says people think of her and her husband David Tauer as having very different personalities.

But when they each completed a worksheet assessing what their priorities and goals were during a weekend retreat, Angie said those matched up perfectly.

The Tauers did that assessment during a weekend retreat hosted by the Minnesota Dairy Initiative, but the retreat is open to Minnesotans operating any kind of farm. The retreats are free, including the hotel stay and meals, but space is limited to 10 couples per weekend, and a refundable registration deposit is required.

2022 marks the third year for the program in Minnesota, which is expanding from two sites to three.

The Minnesota program is modeled after the Farm Couples Getaway program hosted by Iowa State University, which offers two weekend retreats.

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The retreats give couples the opportunity to work on communication skills and goal-setting but also network with other farm families.

Leah Bischof, state director for the Minnesota Dairy Initiative, said some farm families don’t have a lot of outside communication to talk about the stresses of farming.

She said despite different kinds of farms and situations, couples learn they have similar problems.

Mike and Mandy Welle, who milk cows near Freeport, Minnesota, not far from St. Cloud, gained that very experience from the retreat they attended.

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Mandy and Mike Welle operate a dairy near Freeport, Minnesota. Special to Agweek

“Farming can be isolating as it's definitely a different lifestyle that most don't understand,” the couple said in an email. “So to learn that every other couple that attended the retreat with us is going through the same struggles we do with finding help, running a farm, and juggling family life really made us feel not so alone."

But the Welles also gained a new appreciation for their dairy farm after listening to others.

“Even though we have struggles and thought our days are long, it was surprising to learn some of the struggles that others have such as living off the farm and having to add commuting to all the other basic farm struggles,” they said. ”It was eye-opening and we feel very blessed after attending.”

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This year’s retreat in St. Cloud already has a couple coming from north of Duluth and another from the opposite end of the state near Mankato. Bischoff said while all farm families are somewhat “glued” to the farmstead, for dairy farmers, ”it’s really extra special when they can get off the farm.”

Angie Tauer said one of the big takeaways from the retreat they attended in 2021 in Rochester, Minnesota, was “The farm isn’t going to function unless you, as a couple, function.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic and labor shortages haven’t allowed them to follow through for all the goals they set for their dairy farm near Hanska in southwest Minnesota, she said it still good to have them to strive for.

“It was a pretty overall amazing experience,” Tauer said.

More about Minnesota

A Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant funded the program its first two years. This year it is by the MDA and the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The registration period for the Minnesota retreats closes Friday, Jan. 7. (If spots remain open after Jan. 7, late registrations may be accepted.)

Dates and locations in Minnesota are:

  • Jan. 21-22, Faribault.

  • Feb. 4-5, St. Cloud.

  • Feb. 11-12, Thief River Falls.

Retreats start at noon and end at 1 p.m. the following day.
Find more information and registration forms at www.mn-dairy-initiative.org/events.html .

More about Iowa

The Farm Couple Getaways through Iowa State University Extension is sponsored in part by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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  • Feb. 18-19, Decorah.

  • Feb. 25-26, Holstein.

The getaways run from 12:30 p.m. on the first day to 3:15 p.m. on the second day. Registration closes two weeks before the event.
More information at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/dairyteam/farm-couple-getaways-0 .

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Mandy and Mike Welle operate a dairy near Freeport, Minnesota. Special to Agweek

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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