I’ve written many times in the past about farmers getting involved in their local issues. If farmers don’t speak for themselves, someone else will gladly pick up the mic.
Dairy farmer David Ziegler isn’t waiting. He’s speaking up for himself on the local school board.
About two weeks before this year’s election, I started noticing painted hay bales around my area. I’m used to seeing painted hay bales carrying messages — think “97% milk” — so they are not that unusual. But these hay bales were in support of Ziegler, a write-in candidate for the local school board. I didn’t even know who Ziegler was before these bales went up, but I had a feeling there was a farmer or two behind them.
Ziegler didn’t run in the spring primary, so he wasn’t officially on the ballot for school board. Still, he wasn’t happy with what was going on in the district. Like many other school districts around the country, Eastern Lebanon County School District in Pennsylvania has become a hotbed for debate around school masking and other issues. Ziegler saw a disconnect between existing members of the board and people in the community.
So, just two weeks before the election, he put in his name as a write-in candidate.
“Me running was actually a result of my friends and I, and just praying about it. I thought maybe it’s time to step up,” he says.
He recruited his friend Nelson Troutman, the dairy farmer responsible for those “97% Milk” bales, who let him borrow some paint. Then he and his family and friends went to work.
“Vote for David Ziegler” hay bales popped up all over the place.
It’s not easy winning an election, especially when candidates have just two weeks to get their names out in front of people. But the hay bales worked! Ziegler came in fourth in overall votes, but it was just enough to get elected on to the school board.
“I did run because I had a chance to win. That kind of surprised a lot of people. There’s really been a kind of renaissance in people taking interest in governance on a local level,” he says.
Making ag connection
Even in eastern Lebanon County where farming is still thriving, Ziegler thinks there is a big disconnect between farmers and residents.
“I’m the first farmer in a long time on the board. It’s been a while. I see a huge gap in knowledge, even in people’s understanding of homesteading and production agriculture. The thing that drives this area is production agriculture,” he says.
With so much negativity in the world right now, it’s a great time to get involved not only in politics but in other ways, too. Maybe there is a nonprofit that needs volunteers in your area, or maybe your local 4-H or Scouts need new leaders.
As I get older it’s becoming more important for me to share my experiences and knowledge with others, especially those younger than me. Now more than ever, young people need good role models — and they don’t have to be famous.
Ziegler is a fourth-generation dairy farmer with 140 cows and farming 400 acres. It’s a much different farm from when his grandfather delivered milk door to door. He knows not everyone wants to be a farmer, much less a dairy farmer, but he also knows there’s much more to agriculture than growing the land.
“I think sometimes the education system falls short of the opportunities children can have in agriculture. The jobs just aren’t available, they are always available. There’s something uniquely amazing about agriculture,” he says.
That’s why he’s giving back, to possibly educate others about what he does and to give something back to his community. I’m not sure how he’ll do on school board, and I don’t know if I’ll agree with everything he stands for, but I have lots of respect for someone who volunteers their time to help the community.
Need a New Year’s resolution for 2022? Get involved and make a difference in your community.
And good luck to dairy farmer David Ziegler.