Photo Story: “Standing Up” by Emily Nevils

Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils

Marilyn Calvin’s jeep rumbles down a dirt road, weaving between pastures full of dairy cows, her headlights the only source of light, minus the stars. She’s headed to a going-away party for a good friend and a long-time fellow Dairy Farmers of America board member.

The party is almost an hour away outside Monet, Missouri, and technically Marilyn isn’t invited either, but she doesn’t care. Supporting her friend and saying goodbye means more to her than the opinions of his buddies.

At the party, Charles’s friends give a short slideshow presentation about their memories together and at the end, and perhaps to the men’s surprise, Marilyn stands up to speak. She talks about Charles’s character, all the years they worked together in the DFA, all they’d accomplished, and finally, how much she’d miss him.

This isn’t the first time that Marilyn has stood up despite public opinion. When her husband suddenly died of an aneurism just over eight years ago, her neighbors wasted time in bidding on her land. Everyone expected her to give up the farm and buy a town home, she said, but she wasn’t ready to give up the dairy farm and the land that her and husband had sacrificed for since the 1960s.

It hasn’t been easy though – Marilyn hasn’t seen a good year for her business in four years now, and Missouri’s dairy industry is quickly shrinking. According to reporting by the Columbia Missourian, from 2000 to 2014, the number of commercial diaries in Missouri fell by 45.5 percent, and the number of milk cows in the state has been declining since the early 1990s. A nation-wide oversupply of milk from large-scale dairies has led to cheaper milk prices, adding an extra burden to smaller dairy farms, such as Marilyn Calvin’s.

However, Marilyn pushes onward, milking the cows at sunrise and sunset. She continues to stand up for dairy farmers, her livelihood and especially women in agriculture by holding positions of leadership in organizations that she’s been involved with for years such as the Dairy Farmers of America, Mid-West Dairy Association and the Lawrence County Farm Service Agency, where she is one of the few – if not the only – woman holding a leadership role and representing her community year after year.

Emily Nevils is a senior in photojournalism. This story was completed in the fall of 2018 for the JOURN 4980: The Picture Story and Photographic Essay course taught by Associate Professor Jackie Bell.

Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn Calvin takes a container filled with iodine solution off the wall while milking her cows on Nov. 19, 2018, on her dairy farm located outside of Mount Vernon, Missouri. Calvin milks the cows twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, and after milking she dips each cow’s udder in an iodine solution to prevent bacterial infections.
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn pours dog food into a bowl for her two dogs on Nov. 19, 2018, in a shed on her dairy farm. In addition to the two hundred dairy cows, 170 heifers and the several calves she raises, Marilyn also has two dogs, two cats and a farm full of never-ending chores. When not milking, she is normally tending to whatever else needs to be done that day, such as mixing cattle feed, bottle-feeding calves, checking milk levels and temperatures, finding escaped animals or fixing broken fences and machinery.
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Late in the afternoon, Marilyn walks past the foggy window of the milking barn on Nov. 21, 2018. “You gotta love dairy farming, otherwise you wouldn’t do it, it’s too big of a commitment,” says Calvin.
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn writes checks and pays bills at her kitchen table on Nov. 20, 2018. She refers to the business side of farming as her “other job,” and she spends about 40 hours a month keeping the books, paying bills and salaries and keeping track of taxes. She has managed all the finances for the farm since she and her husband bought their first farm in 1968, but she says that it can still be stressful to balance the bills and debt that are common to dairy farming.
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn takes a moment to rub her eyes after a morning of milking. She says that her farm hasn’t had a good year in four years, which has been longer than the normal three-year economic cycle she experiences and prepares for. According to Marilyn, many American dairy farmers, including herself, have expressed a frustration with the current economy that seems to be booming for everyone except them. “Everyone’s talking about the Dow Jones and unemployment, but what happened to us?”
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn reads market reports at her computer while her son, Kenlee Calvin, looks through vaccination records for their cows on Nov. 21, 2018, in Marilyn’s home. Kenlee is married and has his own beef cattle farm, but he spends part of his day working on Marilyn’s farm. Getting to work with her son is one of the reasons Marilyn says that she continues to run the farm. “How many people have a job where they can work with their kids every day, you know?”
Photo Story: "Standing Up" by Emily Nevils
Photo Story by Emily Nevils: Marilyn Calvin looks out into the pasture for any missing cows at sunrise on Nov. 20, 2018. She has long served as a leader in dairy for the southwest Missouri region and was just re-elected for her fourth term as a chair on the Dairy Farmers of America board for her region. Despite having served in this position for 18 years, she still faces push-back from several of her male peers who also work in the dairy industry. “They’ve told me ‘You can’t do that! [run for office] Nobody will vote for a woman,'” said Calvin.

Updated: July 27, 2019