INDIANAPOLIS — When Dallas Foster’s farming career began to crumble, his stress levels skyrocketed.
It always had been his dream to farm. Alongside his wife, Foster raised sows in Greenfield starting in 2006.
Due to the changes in the livestock industry, he closed up shop in December 2018.
Foster bravely shared his story at the AgrIInstitute Rural Mental Health Symposium.
“Moving into 2017, I was having a bad year,” he said. “I struggled with living two lives. With hosting farm bill sessions while, at the same time, I was getting the first major late notice from the bank.”
He and his family earned young farmer awards and other honors, but at the same time, his hogs were facing health issues.
Then the market crashed. Financially, things weren’t looking good.
“In that time period, I was stressed,” Foster said. “I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I wouldn’t eat for like four days. I had to lay off some help. So, I worked and worked.
“Eventually, we were forced to get out of the hog business. We picked a bad year to do that.
“In three weeks, I liquidated 13 years of hard work. The only thing is, I can tell you that because of the people who helped me along the way, I was prepared to do it. I saw hope at the end of it.
“I had a story of passion and desire to be in agriculture. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.
“I was fortunate to have people who helped me get through those emotions and changes in my behavior. Not everyone has that opportunity.”
Foster wants other farmers facing hard times to know there’s hope.
“People in my situation should know that I’ve had a lot of happy moments since the worst thing I thought could happen happened,” he said of losing the farm.
He now works as a full-time construction and ag sales representative at Bane-Welker Equipment.
Losing The Dairy Farm
Doug Leman built Sunny Ridge Dairy in 2001 alongside his wife and four sons.
“For me, getting into this, we had a dream,” he said. “We put together a business plan. Business plans are great, but they don’t always go like you plan.
“Timing is very important. The month we started milking cows, October 2001, milk prices dropped $3, heifer prices went up $300 a head. It didn’t bother me. We were building our dairy.”
Leman considers himself a spiritual person. He relied on his faith in God to guide him through tough times.
The farm experienced good times from 2007 to 2008. But when 2009 came, things took a turn for the worse as the economy suffered.
“Life was getting hard,” he said. “In 2009, it cost me $3,000 a day to open the door. Those are tough times. I was getting very discouraged. At this point, life was no fun.
“You can’t describe the feeling of aloneness. I would look around, and it looked like everyone was doing good, except for me. You don’t sleep. A good night was three hours of sleep, if I was lucky, and that was with two Tylenol PMs.
“You do figures in your mind 24 hours a day. You go to bed, and for me, even if I was sleeping, those numbers were rolling through my mind.”
Every morning, the Bible on Leman’s desk reminded him that there was hope.
“That’s how I started my day,” he said. “That got me through.
“But my health was deteriorating, my blood pressure was about to explode… When you think your family is better off without you than with you, that’s a bad spot to be in.
“I really thought if my heart explodes, that’s OK. I hope it doesn’t, I don’t want to put hardship on the family, but I have good life insurance.”
The time came for the family to sell the farm. It was one of the hardest decisions he ever made.
But it was the right decision, Leman said.
“Leaving the farm that night (we sold the farm), my wife and I drove away crying,” he said. “I got a text from one of my boys that said ‘Thanks Dad.’
“Right there, it was worth it all. This difficult time, I wouldn’t change it. We had 10 years of working together, we had great memories.”
The hardship taught Leman that it’s OK to cry.
He said that the struggles made him a more compassionate person.
“This mental health issue, it’s real,” he said. “I don’t know what all the answers are.
“God is faithful. I encourage you folks, as you get opportunities to encourage someone, realize they feel like they’re alone.”
Persevering Through Downturns
Tony Goldstein moved from the Netherlands to Indiana to start a dairy with his family in 2003.
“One of the reasons we came all the way here was to give my kids a future,” he said.
They started construction on Union Go Dairy in 2005. From 2007 to 2008, the dairy was prosperous. But, as it did with many dairy farmers, 2009 brought challenges.
The farm struggled financially as the United States faced historically low milk prices.
“I’m not from the United States,” Goldstein said. “I didn’t have anybody to go to. We just sat together as a family. The bank was just awful. I said, what are we going to do? My friend said to get a lawyer. We got in touch with her.
“We got the most amount of advice we could get from her. Finally, there was someone who could listen. Yes, we paid her. But it was somebody to communicate with. That was in 2010.”
Goldstein also turned to his wife and herdsman to talk to in the hard times.
He knew that if he lost the dairy, his employees would lose their jobs, too. It weighed heavily on him.
“So, we fought hard,” he said. “The hardest thing is not to get angry. Especially when you have so many employees, you cannot show anger to them.
“We made it through. In 2013, we built a whole different marketing plan for our milk. We chose security rather than going through the ups and downs. It seemed to work.
“We’re still doing what we’re doing. We love what we’re doing. We make a little bit of money. It’s my story, but it’s not the end of the story.”