Emily Simon BS ‘07 has found the best of both worlds working on her family’s dairy farm while she and her husband raise their six children, and their hard work is being recognized with their recent Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators award. Read on to find out more about what it’s like to navigate all the moving parts of the Simon Dairy Farm.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in farming?
My husband’s grandparents started our farm in 1946, so the farm has always been in the family. I basically inherited the farm life when we married. I married and graduated from Davenport in 2007.
I transferred to Davenport University after studying at Michigan State University Law School and Lansing Community College (LCC). I enjoyed law school but decided not to go back to MSU after the first year in order to focus on our family and the farm. I worked during college at the Public Service Commission and continued working there for 15 years. In 2015 we officially bought the farm. I transitioned then to working full-time at the farm. I do all the payroll, bookkeeping, accounting, and meeting with our business consultants and attorneys for the farm. We have six kids 12 and under. I work during naptime, bedtime, and one day a week they go to daycare so I can focus solely on work.
How did you first hear about Davenport and what was your experience like?
Davenport was recommended to me during my time at LCC. I wanted to work full-time while earning my degree and Davenport offered classes at night and online. When my husband and I were dating I took classes at the Grand Rapids campus. It was a fun memory that we share. Every Monday night I would go to class and he would hit some golf balls and pick up dinner. I also had one professor that wrote recommendation letters for me at different law firms that I worked for throughout college. I felt like the faculty really went above and beyond.
What does your typical day look like?
My husband gets up at 4:30 am. and goes to work. I wake up about 6:00 am., exercise, and get the kids up and off to school. We have two kids still at home but we break up the day by tending to the chickens, playing in the big yard, and visiting the farm. When my husband gets home we tag-team until the kids go to bed at 8:00 pm. Then I work from 8-11:30 pm. My husband takes the early mornings and I work late at night.
You mentioned that the farm is 2,000 acres.
At our house we have chickens and then on the farm, we milk 900 cows. Which means we milk three times a day. The parlor only stops working for about half an hour after each milking to clean and sanitize but other than that the cows are milking non-stop, 24 hours a day. We farm just over 2,000 acres also. We mostly farm feed for our cows, but we also grow hay, sorghum, corn, and soybeans. We sell some of the soybean and corn.
You and your husband, Brent recently won the 2020 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators award.
Yes, Michigan Milk is our co-op; they market and sell our milk. At our local meeting, we were nominated by other local farmers and people in the industry. We were up against eight other farmers around Michigan. We traveled to Frankenmuth to interview in front of a panel of judges where we were picked as one of two finalists. The judges were able to visit the farm for a tour and interviewed us before we were selected as the winner. It was a long process and a lot of work but it was a shining moment amongst all the recent chaos in the world. COVID-19 has impacted our milk prices. There are no family get-togethers, and schools are not in session, which means there are a lot less dairy products being consumed.
What is the distribution process like?
We are part of the Michigan Milk Cooperative. They market our milk and try to find the best price. A lot of the time it’s distributing – finding out who needs milk where. You think we would have more control over the price of milk but the market dictates the price. It’s a strange industry in the sense that you go to work but you aren’t sure if you are going to get paid appropriately for the long hours it takes to make your product. The love of the industry, of the business, of the farm, and the life it provides our family makes us just keep doing what we do every day.
Is the farming industry something your kids are interested in?
Yes, we live only about a mile from the farm, so they visit and help on the farm daily. Our oldest mows all the lawns at the farm and they feed calves. They ride in the tractors and help cover the feed piles. Anything they can help do for the farm is great. We have about 30 full-time and part-time employees. When they are on the tractors in the fields all day we try to provide at least one hot meal. Our kids love running it out to the tractor drivers. It’s a family affair all day, every day.
You seem to have a close-knit team and family environment.
We know it’s not an easy job. The cows don’t ever stop producing milk so we don’t have Sundays or Christmas off. There is always someone working on the farm. We know it’s hard and we always try to show our employees we appreciate them. They are like family, so we are blessed in that way. Our saying is faith, family, farm. We want our kids to know they are a priority above the farm at any time. Faith and family come first and with that everything else will fall into place.
Are you in your dream job and are there any next steps for the farm?
I would definitely say that I am in my dream job where I can be the primary caretaker of my kids, I can be involved in the family and we’re two minutes away from my husband every day. Yet, running the business also gives me a sense of accomplishment. I feel like I am living the best of both worlds. I would love to eventually have a frozen yogurt shop on the farm. A type of business where our kids can work and we can share our great product with the community.