The last weekend in May when I was up at our lake cabin I was surprised to hear of a frost warning for the northern half of Wisconsin. I had finally pulled the trigger to put tomatoes, peppers and spaghetti squash in my garden at my woodlot property east of Wausau.

I was out on the lake doing some fishing so began wondering if I could think of someone who could cover my plants. Either that or I’d be making the one-hour trek home that evening to take care of it. Cell-phone reception is always iffy on our little northwoods lake. It’s not unusual to suddenly receive text messages that have been accumulating.

The familiar text ring chimed. It was my former neighbor from Aniwa, Wisconsin, who lives next to our former farm before we moved to Wausau. He wondered if it would be okay for his family to hunt morels in my woodlot property a mile up the road from their home. We’d bartered with each other a number of times.

I told him I’d be more than fine with them hunting morels – and asked if he could possibly take care of my plants for me. He agreed; he sent my wife a text that evening showing how they used my syrup pails to cover the vulnerable plants. I wish I could say they had luck with the mushroom hunt but that wasn’t the case. I’ve scoured the woods for morels a number of times and come up empty-handed.

Neil and Diana Martin moved in 2009 to their Aniwa home next to my farm. At the time Kyle, now 12, was their only child. The family has since grown; Kyle has a brother and five sisters.

“When we bought the home it seemed big and empty,” Neil said. “(Now) it’s no longer empty, and it doesn’t seem big either.”

The couple each has a dairy-farm background. Neil was raised on a 100-cow dairy in Indiana; he eventually moved to Minnesota with his family to pursue dairying there. Diana was raised on a small dairy farm in Michigan.

Neil has worked since 2009 as a nutritional consultant with Nelson Dairy Consultants. He’s happy to be doing something he’s passionate about for his livelihood, he said. Nelson Dairy Consultants is national in scope; he’s one of 28 who work for the company. The company isn’t associated with a feed or pharmaceutical company. Its mission is to help client dairy operations achieve goals.

When I was on the farm my relationship with the Martins was mostly limited to a friendly wave as I passed by on my tractor – heading out to take care of rented property or fetching hay from a distant field edge for my dairy herd. I watched as their family grew along with the large garden in front of their home.

Neil and Diana chose home births for all but their firstborn child. When expecting their second child, Diana said money was a bit tight.

“We had just moved to our new home and Neil was just starting with Nelson Dairy Consultants,” she said. “A home birth versus the hospital was going to save us thousands of dollars.”

She told me she liked the relaxed atmosphere and the fact that she didn’t need to leave home in the middle of labor to find a spot in the hospital. She said she thinks care is more personal with a midwife.

“Overall I think my recovery time is faster with not needing to leave home,” she said. “I give Neil lots of credit as he takes good care of me the first day after each baby.”

Neil is no stranger to delivering a baby. When their daughter Charity, now 5, was born the midwife had not yet arrived when delivery was imminent.

“The truth is you just do what is necessary in a situation like that and birthing without complications is a natural process,” Neil told me. “God has been good to us in that our babies have all been born without complications. If we had high-risk pregnancies we would choose to be at a hospital where emergency care is readily available.”

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To be continued …

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.