Family creates common ground across cultures

By By Amy Kyllo, Staff Writer for Dairy Star Newspaper

Cole Hoscheit is pictured with the crew on his Caledonia, Minn. dairy farm (submitted photo)

“All dairy, all the time.” A bimonthly dairy newspaper covering Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. Published with Dairy Star permission; visit for more Dairy Star articles.

As Mike Johnson met his employee Raphael’s daughter, Ashley, it was a special moment. Holding Ashley in his arms for a photo, Johnson had the privilege of doing something Raphael has never done: meet Ashley in person.

“Raphael has been employed with me a long, long time, and I’ve known a lot about this girl,” Johnson said. “To get to meet her in person was pretty special.”

Johnson, a dairy farmer from Fountain, Minn., was part of a recent trip to Mexico with Puentes Bridges, a nonprofit organization that works with dairy farmers and their employees from Mexico. The organization plans trips so dairy farmers can learn the culture and meet the families of their employees.

Johnson, Cole Hoscheit, a dairy farmer from Caledonia, Minn., and Mercedes Falk, director of Puentes Bridges, shared details from their trip April 17 during an event hosted by the Lions Club in Preston.

Johnson encountered a sense of commonality between the rural Mexican culture he experienced and his own rural midwestern culture. Values like family, work ethic, frugal living and agriculture were all traits Johnson said he connected with.

“I always knew a family was important, but to be there … and see that … kind of took it to a different level for me,” Johnson said.

Many farm employees invest their money in their families in Mexico, working to give them a better life. Johnson shared the conditions of one family they visited.

“There’s no way to get more money in that area,” Johnson said. “They’re just subsistence farmers. They just live on what they grow and that’s it.”

Some former employees of members on the trip had taken their earnings and invested in starting their own small businesses like a restaurant, technology store, school supply store and taxi business.

Ishmael, a former employee who Johnson visited, shared the difference his job on Johnson’s farm made.

“Before he worked on our farm, he had barely any education,” Johnson said. “Working for us and helping us, he had been able to build a house to provide for his family.”

The scene was emotional as Johnson and Ishmael gave each other a long hug amid tears.

Some employees leave behind spouses and children as they sacrifice to create a better future for their families. Falk met the mother of one of her students, Gustavo. Falk shared what Gustavo’s mother told her about him working in the U.S.

“Gustavo’s mother told me, ‘Even though he’s gone, Gustavo makes sure that we always have tortillas on the table,’” Falk said. “‘His siblings can keep going to school. He calls us every two days, and we are never lacking anything because of him. We would love for him to be here with us, but because he’s there, we have enough down here.’”

As director of Puentas Bridges (, Falk shared the outcome of these trips. “Farmers get to see the homes (of their employees) and really wrap their mind around the sacrifices that their employees are making,” Falk said. “They have this renewed sense of understanding and connections with their employees.”

Hoscheit has visited Mexico three times. Like Johnson, he appreciates the cultural focus on family. “One thing that I really appreciate about the Hispanic culture is it reminds me of my grandparents,” he said. “They grew up back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Same thing, they always took care of each other.”

Both Hoscheit and Johnson met the families and visited the towns and villages their current or former employees came from. Hoscheit said the people they saw were grateful they took the time to visit.

Johnson said many of their visits had to be more brief than their hosts desired. “It was really hard when they had prepared a large meal and they had their finest china out,” Johnson said. “They probably spent their whole three months’ worth of money they had on that meal to say, ‘I’m sorry we have to leave.’”

One mountainside village they visited had made a pit-roasted lamb barbacoa and were waiting for the group to arrive before unveiling the culinary delight.

Falk said the Puentes Bridges trips began in the late 1990s and originally focused on learning the language and culture. Today, the focus has shifted from language learning to relationship building.

“There are a lot of connections that can be made,” Falk said. “When you have the desire to want to understand another person, … you don’t necessarily have to have all the right words or all the right translation.”

Hoscheit sees the part his farm has in improving lives in Mexico. He said because of their U.S. income, his employees are building houses in five years that would perhaps take them a lifetime to build without.

“We work hard to take care of them – to take care of our people,” Hoscheit said.

Submit A Comment

Fill out the form to submit a comment. All comments require approval by our staff before it is displayed on the website.

Notify of
0 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments