Daring to dream
Strong faith, hard work ethic help dairy farm succeed
by Lynne Hewes
Watching the news these days leaves us with a pretty bleak picture of the world and its economy, the trustworthiness of our fellow man, and any hope we might have for our future—or our children’s futures. Whether it’s news of bank failures, more people out of work, gridlock in Congress, or stories about violence erupting both across the ocean and across the street, we’re left with the feeling that the only sane action we can take is to “hunker down,” stop taking chances, and keep ourselves safe.
Fortunately, not everyone is so easily frightened, and it’s refreshing, even inspiring, to meet people who haven’t adopted that “hunker-down” attitude.
Two such inspirational people are Ted and Nancy Boersma, who own and operate Forget-Me-Not Farms, a dairy southeast of Cimarron.
The 6,000 cows on Forget-Me-Not Farms produce enough milk each day to send out ten or eleven 6,000-gallon tanker trucks, transporting 60,000 gallons to points in the Southeastern part of the United States. The farm itself employs 70 people from three counties, and the Boersmas have plans for further expansion within the next few years.
“If we’re doing things to the best of our abilities, we should have the option to double in size within the next five to seven years,” says Ted Boersma.
It should. Boersma is an optimistic man. He started in a family floor covering business in Oregon, but his family history with the dairy business, as well as experience he got working on dairies when he was in college, led him to a change of careers. And that change has been enormous.
“I always tell people that when my dad said, ‘Let’s partner in a business,’ I looked around and realized that I didn’t see any old men in the floor covering business,” Boersma says. “I told him, ‘If we’re going to go into business, let’s go into the dairy business.”
Family members back generations on both sides had owned and/or operated dairies, and, with Boersma’s college work experience, it seemed a natural choice.
The Boersmas looked for seven years, trying to find an existing dairy operation to buy.
“I had about given up on the dream,” Boersma said. “We looked all over, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and California. Finally, when I was just about to settle into the floor covering business, we found a place to buy in Belen, New Mexico.”
Nancy Boersma, then a young mother of four small children, hadn’t gone with her husband to look at the New Mexico site.
“It was culture shock,” Nancy Boersma says. “There was the dairy, about 140 cows, a small house to live in. We did everything ourselves. We had no hired help.”
It was a small start, especially compared to the operation they have now.
From Belen, they moved to Clovis, New Mexico, where they operated a larger dairy with approximately 1,400 cows. From Clovis they moved to Cimarron and started their biggest project of all.
“One of the most important reasons we chose Kansas is that Kansas has clear laws on land and water usage,” Ted Boersma says. “Their laws are strict, they are easy to understand, and the state enforces them.”
Recycling and reuse of water is important to the dairy.
“We use the same water to cool down the milk, then to clean the barn floors, and finally to irrigate crop land,” Ted Boersma says. “It’s not high water use, especially when you consider that, in New Mexico, at least, a 2,000-cow dairy on 160 acres uses seven and one-half inches of water per acre, while it takes 18 inches per acre to grow sorghum and 24 inches per acre to grow corn.”
Putting together such a large dairy operation in a new state took both a leap of faith and a positive outlook.
“We were always dreamers,” Nancy Boersma says. “I don’t know where it came from.”
Ted Boersma agrees.
“I was a young man when we started out,” he says. “I had no fear.”
Both Boersmas are quick to give credit for their success to others, however.
“We had a lot of help along the way,” says Ted Boersma. “There were accountants who told us things like, ‘If you aren’t moving forward, you’re sliding backward.’ There were bankers who helped us understand how to borrow money. We bought farm animals on a handshake. It took a lot of people to help us become successful.”
More than anything, the Boersmas give credit to God. In fact, posted at the dairy office is a verse from Deuteronomy: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day.”
“We keep walking by faith, “ Ted Boersma says. “Success doesn’t come just from our own hard work. We don’t forget God.”
That Christian ethic is especially evident in their relationships with their employees.
“We’ve got some very good people working for us,” Ted Boersma says. “We try to do whatever we can to help them out. We believe in education and training. We just sent an employee to Washington for training. We try to bring in professionals to train, and if we find out that one of our employees is taking a class, maybe English language lessons or accounting, we offer to pay for that. We realize that there’s a risk involved. With more education, there’s more chance people will leave, but we don’t try to tie people down.”
In addition to faith, family is also important to the Boersmas. They have nine children, eight girls and one boy, and almost everyone is interested in the business. One daughter does the bookkeeping, another handles educational tours, a son-in-law is the farm manager. Ted Boersma’s father made the office furniture.
“We like having family around us,” Nancy Boersma says. “When we talked about leaving New Mexico and coming to Kansas, we were pleased when two of our married daughters and their families wanted to come too.”
Forget-Me-Not Farms is a big operation and there’s room for family involvement.
“We have a daughter at KSU who is getting her degree as a large-animal veterinarian,” Nancy Boersma says. “She doesn’t have to come out here when she graduates, but she says she wants to.”
The dairy is so important to family life that one daughter even posted a note on her Facebook page when some of the cows were having their hooves trimmed: “The cows are having a pedicure today.” Another daughter created a large, florescent painting for her art class project. A third designed the company logo.
There could be a fit in the family business for each family member, but their parents don’t push it.
“We always kick these things around,” says Ted Boersma. “I tell them that I milk cows because it’s what I love to do, but the dairy can be a base to develop what they want to do. One of our daughters is thinking about getting a degree in education, and there’s a potential that we could open an education center for our employees or their wives or children here.”
The Boersmas encourage their children to pick their own areas.
“The twins are thinking about advertising or marketing; they’re more interested in design,” says Nancy Boersma. “But there could be a connection for that with the dairy too.”
Neither parent wants to give their children a free ride, however.
“Our kids are workers. They’ve always had jobs to help put themselves through school,” says Nancy Boersma. “One was a nanny, a couple worked as waitresses, the twins worked as lifeguards at the pool last summer.”
Their father compares his life to that of his children.
“I’ve enjoyed the ride,” he says, “the thrill of that chase for success. I don’t want to hand my kids everything. I’m always thinking, how do we position our children, so that they will do what they want to do, even if it’s to be a part of this place? There are so many avenues here that they could take, but I want them to get to experience the challenges too.