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Dedicated to dairy

Personal commitment earns woman national award

Personal commitment earns woman national award

August 27, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Six years ago, the death of her husband, the father of her two children - forced Janet Shank Stiles to decide whether she would continue as a farmer.

Tracy Stiles died of cancer in 2000, four years after he and his wife purchased a 125-acre dairy farm in Boonsboro. The Stileses had spent their lives farming. Tracy grew up on a farm. Janet, now 51, grew up on a farm. Their children Jessica, 19, and Bobby, 23, are both pursuing degrees in agriculture.

But when Tracy died, not only did the family have to deal with the loss of a father and life partner, Janet Stiles faced two unsavory choices: Selling the family farm or forcing her two children to help her run the dairy.

Stiles came up with an alternative. She opted to run the farm on her own.

Her decision to maintain the farm exemplified her lifelong dedication to dairy farming, said Debra Stiles Callison, her sister-in-law.

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Her commitment to dairy was one of the reasons the World Dairy Expo organization named Stiles the 2006 Dairy Woman of the Year, said the national organization's spokeswoman, Lisa Behnke.

Each year, the World Dairy Expo honors standouts from within the dairy industry. The awards include International Person of the Year, Industry Person of the Year, and a Dairy Man and a Dairy Woman of the Year.

The recipients will be honored at a banquet in October, during the 40th annual World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. Behnke said she expects 65,000 people to attend the expo.

Callison nominated Stiles for the award.

"I can't imagine anyone else who exemplifies the qualities of the award better than her," Callison said. "You can either choose to fall apart or you can choose to pick up and go. Janet chose to pick up and go."

Stiles said she was surprised to learn that she was nominated in May.

"The Dairy Expo people called me and told me I won," she said. "I thought they were joking. I was like, 'You must have the wrong lady.' There was silence. I knew it must be for real. I was so honored that my sister-in-law put this thing together without me knowing it."

Stiles said her decision to continue on the farm alone was difficult but necessary.

"When I lost him, my whole world came tumbling down," Stiles said. "But I had two kids and a dream."

"If we do this, it's going to be different" said Stiles, recalling what she told her children. "I'm not going to be there as much as I'd like to be. I'm not going to be the mom who can visit you (at college) on the weekends."

"Even if we had to sell the cows, we weren't going anywhere," Stiles said of her commitment to the farm.

Callison said even before Tracy's death, Stiles had always known the meaning of sacrifice. "Traditionally women on the farm are the bookkeepers, the ones who write the checks, while their husbands are out doing the work," Callison said. "Janet was always out there working."

Each morning Stiles wakes up at 2:30 a.m. Like every other day, there are the ordinary tasks: milking, feeding and tending to the cows. If she wants to finish by sunset, she must rise before dawn.

"Working long and hard is nothing new," Stiles said. "I've been doing it all my life."

She grew up on a farm in Beaver Creek. Both her parents were raised on farms. Often, she would have to rise well before dawn in order to finish her farm chores before heading to school. Stiles would eventually attend the University of Maryland and graduate with a degree in dairy science.

Stiles said being a dairy farmer in Western Maryland has grown more difficult, as small farms are often not able to keep up with demand. She milks 100 Jersey cows, producing 20,000 pounds of milk a year.

Stiles said she doesn't want to force her children into taking over the farm.

"I want them to have the option, I want to have (the farm) there in case they want to take it over," Stiles said.

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