SHAWANO — Pam Jahnke asked a college agriculture professor from China why he sent his students all the way to Wisconsin to do internships.
“He told me, ‘Your farmers have passion,’” she said. “And it’s not just farmers. It’s people in agri-business, too. They have passion for animals, for land, for neighbors.”
Jahnke’s audience nodded in agreement from the pews at Sacred Heart Church in Shawano March 22, during the second of two Rural Life Days sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay. The first gathering was held March 21 at Holy Family Church in Brillion.
Raised on a farm in Oconto Falls, Jahnke said the passion Wisconsin farmers have is a blessing. “Don’t take for granted your passion and the lifestyle you lead,” she said. “You’re rock stars!”
Jahnke, the national “Farm Broadcaster of the Year” whose WI Farm Report is heard on 23 radio stations across the state, spoke after a morning in which Bishop David Ricken presided at Mass, blessed seed and soil wheelbarrowed into Sacred Heart Church, then went outdoors to bless tractors and animals.
A black calf named “Little Rocketman” — held tightly by Sacred Heart parishioners John Krizan and his son Devin — got a sprinkling of holy water from Green Bay’s bishop. The blessing was appreciated by the family that operates Krizan Beef Cattle Farm.
“With farming the way it is,” John said, “low beef prices, it’s always a constant gamble. It’s a big risk. But we enjoy it.”
The collection at the Mass benefits the financial scholarships provided to students who go on to secondary education in an agricultural field.
Before Mass, Richard Kabara from Assumption B.V.M. Parish in nearby Pulaski placed a box with a sample of his soil and corn, beans and alfalfa seed into one of the wheelbarrows.
Kabara, 77, a long-time dairy farmer who has farmed “my whole life — well, since high school,” said, “I’m here to get God’s blessing on our seed and soil. It’s a rough world for farmers. (Prices of) commodities are down.”
As typical across Wisconsin, where 97 percent of farms are family-operated, Kabara’s whole family contributes to the farm work — “even the grandkids, cleaning out the pens,” he chuckled.
Deborah Wegner-Hohensee, parish planning director for the Diocese of Green Bay, noted that the purpose of Rural Life Days is to recognize the hard work, dedication and stewardship of those who care for the land, and to pray for a fruitful and safe farming season.
“These two days emphasize the value of the people in our rural parishes and celebrate the fruits of their labor and faith,” she added. “This includes the celebration of Mass, as we prepare for a new season and gratitude for blessings from past seasons.”
At Mass, Bishop Ricken emphasized that gratitude, calling the rural life “all a very complex and beautiful gift God has given us.”
He urged farmers to continue living with “abandonment to divine providence … when we surrender our worries and concerns and anxieties into God’s hands. You who are farmers, you know you’ve got to give it up a lot.
“Realizing how God has blessed you, build gratitude into your heart,” he said.
David and Annette Dufeck of St. Anne Parish in Coleman/Lena were among those at the luncheon provided after Mass by the women of Sacred Heart Parish.
The couple, who farm 250 acres and milk 60 cows near Pound, said they never miss attending one of the annual Rural Life Days.
“We come for the get-together with other farmers,” David said, “and for the blessings, to get ready for spring.”
The Dufecks sat at a table with Diane and Don Brandl, who run Belle Plain Cheese just south of Shawano off Hwy. 22.
The Brandls donated a basket of their factory’s cheese that was among the door prizes — and the cheese for the luncheon, too.
“We’re cheese makers, so we rely on farmers for our milk,” Diane Brandl said, and they wanted to support the farm community.
And she had to come to the Rural Life Days Mass.
“If the bishop’s here, I’ve got to be here,” she said with a smile. “It’s high on our list — it should be for everybody.”