Family food businesses compete against chain stores

Lolly Lesher

More than a dozen family friends and fellow farmers pitched in this week to help clean up a barn roof collapse and move the displaced cows at Way-Har Farms, a fourth generation dairy farm in Upper Tulpehocken Township.

"Our family farm suffered a barn roof collapse as a result of the heavy snow Monday night," said Lolly Lesher. "Fortunately we did not lose any animals, and my family was not hurt, either. But we are overwhelmed with demolition, daily chores and the massive cleanup."

William and Lolly Lesher and three of their four children run the farm at 94 Lesher Road, near Bernville, which was started in 1952. The family's popular Way-Har Farm Fresh Market, 7701 Bernville Road, Jefferson Township, has operated since 1970.

Their daughter Jaylene was in the family's original milking parlor barn at 5:30 p.m. Monday when she heard creaking and groaning, Lolly said. Jaylene ran to the house to tell her family it sounded like the barn, built in 1967, was coming down. It was full of 200 cows at the time.

"We all worked together and pushed out the cows and got them all out and we got out and five minutes later it came down," Lolly said. 

Bernville's snowfall total from the three-day storm was 22.5 inches, according to Reading Eagle reports of Berks Area Rainfall Networks measurements. The storm brought 8 to 28 inches of snow to Berks County, with an official total of 18.6 inches, registering as the 10th highest storm total on record.

The snow piled up from the east, with an hour of sleet in between snowfalls, making it very heavy, Lolly said. Like all farmers, they shovel their barn roofs to keep the weight from accumulating, but this storm was too much.

At noon Friday, Lolly was serving lunch "as a thank you" to the fellow farmers and others who were helping them clean up and move cattle. Fifteen people showed up to help move snow, pick up debris and offer the use of their trucks and trailers to move cows. They can't leave so much as a nail out in the fields, where the cows are now, because they would eat it.

They milk a mixed herd of 300 cows, including Holsteins, Jerseys, Milking Shorthorns, Brown Swiss and Ayrshire. Milking is continuing, and some cows are living outside, while others have been moved to neighboring farms that have space in their barns to house them.

Another daughter, Laura, who manages a dairy farm in Wisconsin, came home on Wednesday with her fiance to help with cleanup and chores. 

"We still have to milk, and feed, and new babies are born daily," Lolly said. "It makes for longer days."

Things like shop work, maintenance and cleaning of equipment, are on hold while they deal with the emergency.

The Leshers plan to rebuild immediately to house the displaced cows. Lolly said insurance will cover some of the cost to rebuild, but not all. She estimates cleanup will take two to three weeks.

Thankfully, the milking parlor on one end of the collapsed barn is still usable. They have to guide the cows through debris to get to the milking parlor.

"We are so blessed," she said. "It's a bump in the road, but we have great neighbors and we'll be OK."

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