Knolltop Farm Wife (Melissa Hart)

Welcome to my blog! I'm a wife, mother of four and a self-employed freelance writer. In addition to writing, I am involved in producing several dairy magazines and am the editor of Dairy Agenda Today where I have a blog there as well! This is a place where I can get what's in my head, down on paper (the internet). I hope you find encouragement and maybe a giggle or two!
Follow me on instagram @farmwriter

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Mom's Sacrifice

Hauling things out of my parent’s farmhouse to sell in a yard sale was how my sister and I spent our Memorial Day weekend.  With each dust-covered box, we found a treasure trove of history we were just now discovering about our mom. Sorting through files and photos, we were seeing the dimension of a self-less mom grow into a person we never knew existed. I mentioned in an earlier column about the things we never knew about our mom, but the sacrifice of her life has never been clearer. Growing up, stories of her college days were plentiful but several details were left out as she concentrated on raising a family and helping her husband of six decades run a farm. 

We knew she was a successful vocalist in college, but we never knew she recorded an album until we pulled out an old 78 vinyl record and listened to her lyrical voice through the crackle and pop of the old relic. We knew she was the first woman on the Michigan State livestock judging team, but we had no idea she was the first woman on the meats judging team too.  We knew she had spent time in Germany with her uncle, but we had no idea how well-traveled she was until we found her passport and the countless letters she penned in stunning penmanship sent to her mom back home.

You see, she had a remarkable upbringing by a single mom who was educated and accomplished instead of the traditional two-parent household of the 1940s, so her desire to raise us with two parents on a farm was paramount.  Holding a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate from two universities, she chose to stay home and soak up every moment of her children’s development. 

My mom traded the spotlight of the performing arts for lambing a flock of sheep with two young children in tow during the cold Midwest winters.  Instead of teaching in public school, she taught her daughters how to bake, can, and sew and turned her sons over to their father to teach them how to plow a field and take care of livestock. She was the consummate school volunteer up through her 80s and three months before she passed, she was walking the streets of a small Montana town, Christmas caroling with her great-grandchildren.

She buried two children and a husband and knew the value of hugging her family whenever she had the chance. With talent, grit, and the opportunity to break glass ceilings, her choice was to give her entire life to the only thing that will last through eternity, her family. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Perspective is a Beautiful Thing

Sitting in a motel room in Princeton, West Virginia, is not where I expected to be this week after a long two months of being on the road covering shows.  But here I am looking out the window at beautiful mountains in full color.

My daughter was headed to cover the South Carolina State Fair when she called with her car broken down on the side of the highway at 8 pm on a Friday night.  We got the car safely towed to a shop but we had to get her and her assistant headed to Columbia, SC.  Because her assistant was also a Virginia Tech graduate, Wytheville, Virginia was a friendly place to be stranded.  Several phone calls later and helpful texts from the exhibitors in Columbia, South Carolina, the two girls were on their way in a borrowed car from Virginia Tech Dairy Judging Team coach, Dr. Katharine Knowlton.

Thankful for a generous judging coach who has made a career of teaching and loving the next generation of our ag leaders I was elated when I heard the show was being covered without missing a beat and it was a simple fix for the car.  Two days later they picked up the car in Virginia and were headed home.  Feeling as if I should call them to find out how they were doing, my phone started ringing, my daughter beat me to it.  I gleefully said, “How are things going?” She responded, “We are stuck on the side of the road again.”

Alternate plans were set in motion to get her assistant back to The Ohio State University to teach her class on Monday while my daughter was checking into a motel in Princeton, WV.

When I woke up on Monday morning facing the possibility of driving to West Virginia when I was planning on spending every single day at home for a least 10 days in a row, I was less than thrilled. The indecision about what to do if the car is fixable, has a blown motor or if we need to tow it home are decisions I did not plan on contemplating when I had a full workload ahead of me. I have calls to make, stories to write and a son getting married in two weeks, I just wanted life to slow down for a minute so I could catch my breath.   But then I read about a local mom who lost her 30-something son over the weekend.  She is planning a funeral.  She is selecting clothes for her son to be buried in. She is contemplating life without her baby boy that she loved with all her heart and soul.  As I thought about her, I prayed and was reminded that I could count it as pure joy to interrupt my daily life and get in the car, drive eight hours south to help my daughter get back home.

Perspective is a beautiful thing when we get it right. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ripping the Fabric

By Melissa Hart

Imagine four-wheel drive John Deere tractors gathering cobwebs in a pole barn with doors that hadn’t been opened in months.  Can you see fallow farm ground growing up with weeds and annoying brush?  Or farm lanes that are grown over because there was no traffic in or out of the farm. The grease guns are never used, the farm implements rusting away behind the barn and no fuel trucks in and out of the driveway for lack of need. 

The neighborhood equipment dealer would cease selling new tractors, and electric lawn mowers would be the new hot item.  The parts manager would also serve as the bookkeeper, the part time mechanic and the custodian.  There would be one grain elevator to serve the entire county, one farm store would be able to serve three counties and the seed dealer and chemical salesman would be an online store somewhere in Kansas.  Stockyards would close up, vibrant diners that served local farmers would shutter their doors and the county fair would be nothing more than a carnival with a few photos of what used to be exhibits of crops, livestock and horses.

This would be the reality if the current administration decided to do to agriculture what it’s done to the fossil fuel industry.  When the drilling leases were eliminated, pipelines were shut down and we were told that clean energy is where we are headed, we took an entire industry full of owners, employees, families and vibrant towns and said, sorry, you don’t matter anymore.

When people in perceived power used their position to bend the will of an industry to their agenda of priorities and impose them on a country who’s founding was based on hard work, ingenuity and freedom, they slowly create a sluggish economy that is profitable for the powerful and merciless to Americans.

This is a country of people who not only adjust on the fly but have the tenacity to do what is needed.  During World War II our factories were changed from producing everyday goods to war-time necessities.  During Covid when we thought we needed ventilators, industrious minds and intelligent engineers backed by hard working people produced more ventilators that we could use during three pandemics.  When hurricanes hit our southern shores, people from all corners of this nation dropped their daily activities and headed to help those in need. We are rescuers. We are resilient. We are survivors.

Having a load of baby formula flown in from Europe when factories should have been ramping up production knowing one producer was shutting down is humiliating.  Buying oil from Venezuela, a country ruled by dictators, when we have plenty of our own clean oil is not only foolish but has lowered the expectations on a country of smart, proud, and ingenious people. 

We can produce our own food.  We can produce our own fuel.  We can produce our own goods and services.  But when leadership rips that responsibility from people, they not only tear away the fabric of a freedom loving republic, but they kill the spirit of a country who thrives on liberty.

Our forefathers did not fight battles in bloody bare feet to lose the war to power-hungry men in faux leather soled shoes two centuries later. Our country has survived decades of difficulty and I am confident that when we are tested, we will come forth as gold. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Facts Are Facts

 By Melissa Hart

As I look at my keyboard, I see wrinkled hands and chipped nail polish on a 56-year-old body that has endured and enjoyed five decades as a female.  Living an imperfect life, I am a daughter, wife, mom and aunt.  And I will never be able to change that. It’s how God made me. But lately there is a loud minority of folks who want the privilege to change their gender and are trying to make the rest of us think it’s as natural as a bull sniffing the rump of a cow in heat.

There is a young college athlete who was born a male.  He was created by God as a male and no matter what, his DNA will always be XY. With that chromosomal content, he will have the tendency to be a conqueror, a protector and a fighter. But his fight is to become a woman and he is being allowed to compete in the NCAA women’s swimming events, smashing records set by women, as a man.

I will not pretend to know what is going through his mind, but I do know that he and everyone who is complicit with him competing against females is erasing the accomplishments of women’s athletics one lap at a time.

Generations of women fought for the right of women’s athletics. Rural areas are full of highly competitive girls’ basketball teams coached by the local dairy farmer. Sisters are shooting hoops with brothers in hay mows and pole barns all across this country. But when it comes to games, they are lacing up to compete with other girls.

Beyond the games, there is more to being a woman than pretty hair and make-up.  Being female is an exclusive club and if you weren’t born that way, you will never understand.  God made women to be caretakers, nurturers with the ability to love unconditionally.  A man trying to become a woman will never know the calm, contented feeling that washes over her as soon as her baby is born. He will never know the hours of labor or the intense pain of delivery.  He will never understand the heartstrings that ties a mother to her son or the unbreakable bond that she holds with her daughter.

A man will never know the depths of postpartum depression, the recuperation of a c-section while caring for a newborn or the unkindness of her favorite pair of jeans. A man will never look in the mirror and have wide hips and a pouchy belly where the world expects toned abs and sun-kissed skin with shiny, healthy hair falling down her back.

I will never discount the vital role of fatherhood.  Dads are crucial for the success of the nuclear family.  Period.

Will this man trying to be a woman ever stop numerous times during the day to wonder if their first grader is making friends? Or if their 7th grader is getting ridiculed because of her clothes or hair?  Or if he should have stayed home with her coughing 3rd grader?  Will he ever suffer for years from mom-guilt because she unfairly accused her 17-year-old of lying or because she lost her temper on her 9-year-old for not putting the laundry in the dryer? Probably not. Will he lose sleep because his third grader isn’t reading? Will he wake up at 3 am to make cupcakes for the classroom Halloween party?

He will never deal with postpartum flyaway hair, hot flashes, menstruation, the embarrassment of thinning hair, nails that won’t grow and leggings that never lie.

While I want to stand up for the purity of female athletics and beyond, let’s not negate the responsibility that comes with XY.  It’s greater than you think. The current culture has devalued dads for far too long. We need strong men willing to take on the task of being influential fathers.

Women have exclusive rights to growing another human, are exclusively responsible for nourishing an unborn life and delivering a joyous bundle that will have immeasurable impact on countless lives. While someone may feel like a woman, a man will never be one.  Feelings are fickle, facts are facts.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

You Want Me to do What?

By Melissa Hart

 You want me to do what? Produce a magazine four times a year? 

I had no experience in magazines, printing, ad design, selling advertising, much less any thoughts about a media kit, cover designs, bleeds, or ad specs. I was a freelance writer.  I knew how to type words in a word document and send it to the newspaper or magazine, but to actually come up with a complete magazine, nope, not for me.

I knew I couldn’t come up with editorial content that anyone wanted to read.

I knew I would never be able to sell advertising, or come up with a reason why someone should advertise.

I knew I would never have the time to sell, write, edit and hire a designer, who was I fooling? Or better yet, what was God thinking?

My first reaction to any challenge is fear.  Fear of failure, fear of not knowing what I need to know and fear of people being disappointed in me.  I know I’m not alone, but when I’m sitting in my office and there is no one there to pat me on the back or to brainstorm ideas with, the loneliness sets in, and the fear factor rises.

While fear may be a real feeling, the fact is, God has equipped each one of us to perform the challenge that is set before us.  If we are managing a farm, taking care of people, or making financial decisions, God knows we are capable.  If we own a business, 10,000 acres or rent an apartment and work at the local retail store, God knows the level of responsibility that we can handle. 

He knows how much we can manage, how well we can perform and how far we can be pushed to accomplish His plans.  He not only knows, but He also expects us to steward the resources he gives us.  We may be in charge of our earthly responsibilities, but He expects stewarship. And when you have a God who owns it all and He also equips us with the ability to take care of his gifts, then there is no excuse or reason to retreat in fear.

 Whatever your facing, whatever decision you are making, remember that you were not gifted with a spirit of fear, but you were given a sound mind and He expects you to use it for your good and His glory.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Turning Off the Milk Pump

 By Melissa Hart

By the time you are reading this, Pleasant Meadow Farms will have dispersed their herd and the milk pump will never be turned on again by Melvin, Phyllis or Mark Fledderjohann.  When I was asked to write a feature story on this family, my first thought was, ‘They are selling out, why would I write a feature story about that?’

The Fledderjohanns have been milking Registered Holsteins on their western Ohio farm since 1968 where they provided a living for their families with 70 milk cows. Mark was the only son to come back to the farm where he and his parents have worked together for decades. He has a wife who wants to spend time with him, and two kids who need their dad’s involvement and the demand of the farm has kept him at a distance far too long, so for Mark in his late 50s, it was time to close the chapter on dairy farming. Melvin and Phyllis are in their 80s and while still in great health and with the mental attitude of a couple of 40-year-olds, they too decided it was time to retire. 

While a dispersal sale seems sad, for this family it’s different.  They are happy.  They are satisfied.  They are humble.  They didn’t break any records, win any banners or sell any cattle for big money.  They just kept their nose to the grindstone, continued to move forward and were good stewards of what God had entrusted to them.

Their work ethics matched and day after day, they used that to their advantage.  When one person wasn’t available to do something, the other two stepped into get it all done.  There is no bitterness, no angst, and no regrets.  They have spent a lifetime doing exactly what they wanted to do, and the bonus is they were incredibly successful along the way. As I interviewed them, I could see they loved working.  Phyllis said when you enjoy what you’re doing, you work all day long and at the end of the day, you’re tired, but it’s a good tired.

Pleasant Meadow Farms may not have anymore cattle, but they have a legacy of success built on years of hard work, cooperation, laughter, and love.  And that was a feature story worth writing.  

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Power of Starch

 By Melissa Hart


Starch was a staple growing up.  My mom would spend a few afternoons every week standing over an ironing board making sure all of my dad’s clothes were starched and looking crisp.  She didn’t stop there, she would starch her clothes, dad’s hankies, her aprons, doilies, cloth napkins that were used on special occasions and especially the tablecloths that donned the dinner table on Sunday afternoons when we were likely to have company for dinner.

Seeing my mom set up her ironing board in the kitchen was a normal part of growing up and I thought all moms did that, until I found out they didn’t. But I did.  Early in our marriage I had a big pile of ironing, just like my mom.  And within the pile, along with my husband’s shirts, his Wrangler jeans, and crocheted doilies were pillowcases.  Again, I thought everyone starched their pillowcases, until I found out they didn’t.

This led me to asking mom why on earth we starched pillowcases?  It was simple, it protected the pillowcase from the dirt and grime that can ruin or stain it. Also, it prolongs the life of the pillowcase or anything else that could be starched.  This made perfect sense, and so I continued to spray starch on the pillowcases, napkins, white shirts, doilies, and Wrangler jeans.

As the busyness of a family encroached on my available time to starch the family dress clothes, the pressed pillowcases went by the wayside. I haven’t starched a pillowcase in 25 years. But my mom on the other hand, still takes the time to carefully spray the starch on and press in the satisfying creases.

In a recent conversation the subject of pillowcases popped up when she had come across a set that were given to them as a wedding gift.  That means those pillowcases were 65 years old and still going strong, thanks to the starch. Then she told me this story; when she and my dad were newlyweds, she had just changed the sheets and as they crawled into bed he smelled the pillowcase and asked why she starched them. She explained why and he replied, “Whenever I smell the pillowcases it makes me feel like someone cares.”  That simple statement filled her up 65 years ago making her feel like she had done something right. And today, every time she starches a pillowcase that memory floods her mind and soothes her grieving soul that misses the man she loved and who’s pillowcase she starched for over six decades. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The DAT Extra Podcast with Chris Hill is NOW LIVE!

I have a new podcast out on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!  It's the Dairy Agenda Today EXTRA Podcast with Chris Hill !

Chris and his wife, Jen, operate MD-Hillbrook in Maryland and specialize in marketing purebred dairy genetics. Chris took a few minutes out of his day while he was trucking cattle to the Maryland State Fair to visit about how he became an auctioneer and how on earth he can breath while crying a sale! 

If you enjoy the podcast, share it on your social media channels!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Ringside on a Friday Afternoon

On a Friday afternoon at the state fair, I typed up show results and posted photos of a show that was happening in front of me at the Farmer’s Coliseum in downtown Indianapolis.  Four rings of cattle were on exhibition while clerks, queens and announcers kept the pace of the show moving forward for spectators enjoying a vanilla shake and a hot grilled cheese.

On one side of me was a young woman who had just moved back from Iowa and was telling me about her entrepreneurial idea of opening a western wear boutique, behind me sat a former state officer for Indiana FFA and was headed to Purdue to major in ag communications with a desire to get into ag broadcasting. And on my left-hand side was my youngest son who was just along for the fun and giggles. He was flanked by the Indiana Holstein Queen who hailed from Turtle Town, USA, otherwise known as Churubusco, Indiana—don’t think there weren’t some great stories about turtle races throughout the day.

On that same Friday afternoon, 476 miles west, my daughter was sitting ringside covering the Iowa State Fair Holstein show. The girl who went off to college and said she would never work in the ag industry was taking photos of cows and posting show results while visiting with acquaintances turned life-long friends because she’s been going to this state fair with me for nearly 10 years.

When these two kids were 6 and 8, they would tag along with me to cover events at local county fairs.  Whether it was a livestock auction or a show, they were always in search of the cheapest corndog on the grounds and then hit the local dairy producers ice cream stand.  We couldn’t leave the fair without going through the commercial building to pick up all the free pens, candy, chip clips and yard sticks.

Now in their 20s, they both have a career, live on their own and are enjoying the life God has put before them. Never in my wildest dreams did I think twenty years later, we would still be going to the fair, enjoying grilled cheese and vanilla shakes, sitting ringside at a show.  But here we are, two of us in Indy and the other in Des Moines and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

A Community of Chaos

Visiting with my oldest son over coffee he said, “I have a question for you.”  Whenever he says that I always brace myself because it’s usually a question that involves lots of thought and sometimes I have no idea how to answer him.

He asked, “When you get together with your lady’s group, do you complain about your husbands?” I said, “Sometimes.”

Then he asked, “And when you do complain, you all pile on, right?”

It was a great opportunity to explain to him how the healthy support of other women can make the difference between a vibrant family life and insanity.

The ladies I meet with week after week not only support each other, but we support each other’s spouses, kids, grandkids and parents.  I can’t count the number of times I was spitting nails about something that happened earlier in the day and recounted the circumstance in great detail waiting for everyone to fly to my defense only to have them point me right back to the positive, the good and the hopeful aspects of my marriage.  While I wanted everyone to commiserate, they stepped back, wrapped their arms around my family and squeezed us tight with prayer.

Not only did they not pile on, they recounted my husband’s attributes and shed light on his perspective.  They showed me the other side of the argument and helped me consider all sides of the situation. Sometimes they laughed.  Sometimes they shared their own similar stories, but never did they add to my frustration by layering on more blame and exasperation.

My son was astounded.  He said he had never seen that kind of thing in his generation of women. I added that I learned a long time ago that when you have a friend who is taking your side and finding more cause for your argument, you need to find a new friend because she will be the first one to try to steal your husband away.

Finding a group of women who will love your family as much as they love you is a gift that will not only  keep your sanity in an insane world, but will calm the storms when the waves of family life come crashing down in a moment’s notice.  We were created for community, a community that loves and supports your entire family filled with the chaos of life.