Van der Laans Overcome Odds

  • Article
  • 2 min read January 24, 2013
  • Anita Va
  • Der Laan

I consider myself to be an optimistic person. But the forces of nature have tested my optimism and that of my family.

Two tornadoes within a five-month stretch of 2011, followed by last year’s crippling drought, pushed us to our limits. There’s nothing quite like rebuilding our facilities only to call the contractor a month later to say we need to do it again. 

The first tornado was bad enough, but the second one reached EF-4 status, meaning its winds were in the 166 to 200 mph range. Fortunately, we have a basement where our family and workers stayed safe as the storm roared overhead like a giant blender through our farm. The damage to our buildings was bad enough, but the loss of so many of our animals was – and remains – the most difficult part to accept. 

It’s been said that after every storm, there comes a rainbow. Ours came 30 minutes later with a phone call from a friend who asked how she could help. We simply needed people to help us organize, treat and feed our distraught animals, especially the calves.

Within an hour, we had nearly 200 people show up to our farm. It was amazing to see neighbors rallying around us. Some were strangers we were meeting for the first time. They came every morning and night, some staying weeks at a time. 

We stopped to celebrate Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. My husband, Pieter, and I had plenty to be thankful for, including our three children who will one day be back to work on the farm. We look forward to that time. 

We eventually rebuilt the farm, only to join other farmers across the country last year to face a new challenge: the most destructive drought in the last 50 years. Cow feed was scarce and anything available was terribly expensive. We grew crops but they never matured and still are brown from the lack of water. 

But, it’s a new year and my optimism for our farm and the industry remains strong. We still need moisture, whether rain or snow, but I know it will come. And for the record, we’re not planning on seeing any tornadoes this year! Those two storms in 2011 took an almost identical path. The odds are on our side that this won’t happen again! 

I have faith and plenty of motivation to keep working this farm and caring for our animals. As hard as it’s been, there’s nothing like getting out of bed each morning to milk our cows. Being dairy farmers is an honor and our family’s way of life, no matter what Mother Nature hands us. 

We believe miracles happen. We see them every day at our farm. Each calf that is born here is still a miracle. When I stop believing that, maybe it’s time to quit. But God is still working and when you deliver those calves and they take their first breath, it still takes my breath away.