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Unlikely couple start life, dairy farm together

Natalie Kolb | Chelsea Geisinger and Isaiah Ayala were married by her uncle, the Rev. Barry Spatz, who read I Corinthians 13:4-8, which explains the things love is, and is not. The bride and groom have the biblical reference tattooed on their bodies as a reminder.

Gray-tipped clouds seemed to erupt in the September sky above the hills at The Grove at Kempton in Albany Township. If a cloudy sky could feel optimistic, this one did, exposing swaths of cornflower blue to the small assembly below.

A cool breeze swept Chelsea Geisinger’s dark brown hair from her back to reveal a tattoo just above her strapless wedding dress. At that moment she was still Chelsea Geisinger, not yet Mrs. Isaiah Ayala.

It said, “I Corinthians 13:4-8.”

It is the verse that begins, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

Isaiah has the same tattoo. It was their promise, made just two months after they met. Isaiah learned the verse from his father, a pastor and mechanic who died when he was in high school. The couple picked the passage for Chelsea’s uncle, the Rev. Barry Spatz, to read during the ceremony.

The verse continues, “(Love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

The night before her wedding, Chelsea revealed the tattoo to her father because she didn’t want him to be surprised when it came up in her vows. He wasn’t bothered. He just wanted Chelsea to be happy; she had been through so much.

An unlikely couple

Chelsea, 23, and Isaiah, 27, seemed destined for one another. He grew up in Philadelphia; she in rural Berks County. But they were drawn together by two things: the loss of a parent and a love of farming.

Chelsea’s mother, Cathie, died in a workplace accident when she was 17. Isaiah’s father died of cancer when he was a teenager.

Chelsea turned to her mother’s flock of Cheviot sheep for healing. That decision was the subject of a Berks Country cover story on Dec. 26, 2012.

She went to Penn State as an agriculture major, but she wasn’t happy in Happy Valley. She didn’t fit into the party culture. She longed for the routines of farm life.

Depressed and suicidal, she returned home to rural Centre Township, where she lived with her childhood boyfriend.

Isaiah immersed himself in his schoolwork at W.B. Saul High School in Philadelphia, the state’s only agriculture high school. He became a student farm manager as a freshman, an unheard-of feat. Caring for the animals, including Saul’s small dairy herd, offered stability and solace.

He was exceptional on the farm, but his grades in non-agriculture classes suffered, so he left just before graduation in search of farm work. By the time he found his way through dairy operations in New Jersey and Bucks County, he was the father of two children with his girlfriend.

Tired of working for others, Isaiah came to Berks County to set up his own dairy farm, Golden Holsteins. He leased a vacant dairy barn near Shoemakersville while he made payments on a $150,000 loan that covered the cattle. He paid 40 percent off the top of his dairy check to use the facility. What was left went for feed and other expenses.

The arrangement made it easier for him to get started, since he did not have any capital and already owed money for the cows. Ideally, he would build his dairy operation while saving to buy a farm, but in dairy its hard to break even, let alone make a buck. And due to a glut of milk, it’s harder than ever.

An average farm in 2015 was projected to lose $1.42 per hundred pounds of milk, according to a recent Penn State Extension report. That may not seem like much, but for a small Pennsylvania dairy farm of 52-70 cows that produces as much as 25,000 pounds per cow per year, that’s a loss of more than $24,850.

First meeting

Isaiah met Chelsea at a cattle-breeding seminar at New Holland Stables. He was at a low point, slacking on barn upkeep and wondering if it was worth it. He was selling cows to stay afloat.

He went to New Holland for a refresher on breeding. Chelsea was there to learn about breeding, too. When he met her, she was dirty and arm deep in a cow. She made a joke about it, and Isaiah thought there was something about her.

“Afterward, I could not stop thinking about her,” he said.

But there were complications; both were in foundering relationships with other people. Still, within two months they were getting matching promise tattoos. A month after that, they were engaged.

“It was so huge to be with somebody who understood (farming) is not work, it’s a lifestyle,” Isaiah said.

They picked each other up, Isaiah said, because each understood that a bad day on the farm paled in comparison to losing a parent.

Some of those who are close to Chelsea were wary of Isaiah. He was a stranger; he was Latino; he had children. But he won them over, Chelsea said. And whoever didn’t like it, well, that was their problem.

Chelsea and Isaiah were in love.

The cows, however, were a different matter. They adored Isaiah, but some didn’t like Chelsea.

“It took me six to 10 meetings for the diehard Isaiah fans (to come around),” Chelsea said. “I got my nose broken.”

Hard times

Money was tight. Chelsea traded her beloved sheep for more cattle. The sheep went to a family friend who knew her mother.

In January, she found a full-time job where her father worked, Giorgi Mushrooms, because the couple needed health insurance. With a history of cancer in Isaiah’s family, it was too risky to go without it, and they could not afford $1,000 a month to buy insurance on their own. She started in January – with her broken nose.

As they sent out Save the Date cards, Chelsea realized some of the cows they bred in December would be likely to calve near the wedding. One more thing to worry about.

Meanwhile, Isaiah began halter training the Holstein calf named Lima, who would be their ring bearer.

“As long as she doesn’t get poop on my dress I’m fine,” Chelsea said.

They laughed.

The wedding

Three days before the wedding, the last of the cows finished calving. There would be no honeymoon. Isaiah and Chelsea would be moving the herd to a new location with a set lease fee. Milk prices are better this year, so they hoped a fixed rate would enable them to keep more of the milk check.

As the 125 or so friends and family gathered at The Grove, a barn converted to an event venue, Chelsea and Isaiah dressed. As tradition has it, the groom had not seen the bride. Chelsea spent the night in her father’s house. She had kept the dress a secret.

Isaiah likes surprises. And so, as she walked across the grass toward Isaiah, he smiled broadly. Cody Haag, 10, struggled to keep the ring bearer under control as Chelsea walked behind. Her dress was safe.

On her way to the arch adorned with sunflowers, Chelsea passed an empty chair set aside for her mother and tried not to cry. Chelsea wore her mother’s blue bracelet and a diamond necklace made from an earring her mother was wearing when she died.

The breeze picked up as the couple began their vows.

Chelsea told two stories of working with Isaiah in the barn. Early in their relationship, he handed her two milk bottles and told her to feed two calves, a Holstein and a red and white. But he had sold the red and white. She called him dumb.

“Both of us laughed until we cried, and nothing mattered in that moment,” she said. “I knew then that we were the same.”

Another time, she hit her head on a grain chute as she carried a heavy bucket of milk replacer.

“I smacked my head and landed flat on my back for the first time in my life,” Chelsea said, “but I didn’t spill a drop. I got up and continued working, a hard worker with an appreciation for pricey milk replacer.”

Everyone laughed. Milk replacer is what farmers give weaning calves instead of saleable milk. But its cost is volatile, sometimes exceeding $60 a bag.

“I never wanted to be a lifelong dairy farmer, a stepmother or take risks,” she told Isaiah, her voice starting to crack with emotion. “I have never been so comfortable or free in my life. Free to be who I am and comfortable to express each aspect of myself. Free to try anything and always laugh about it later. You always see the good in me and bring me back to life even when I’m drowning. I’ve always been scared of my inner demons, but all I needed was you to show me the light.”

She promised to sing silly, strong, independent-woman songs – but not as loud. She promised to eat the last of the ice cream and hoard food in her car – but try to share it.

“I promise that there will always be something stupid that comes out of my mouth that I’ll think about a little more, unless it’s really funny,” she said. “I promise I won’t always be good at surprises but I will really try.”

To her friends and family, she added, “He’s really good at surprises and I’m not. I get too excited.

“Above all, I promise to always be your wife no matter the time, day or circumstances; your No. 1 fan, always in your corner, supporting you, pushing you and loving you.”

Then it was Isaiah’s turn.

He noted how quickly they fell for each other.

“I have learned to be a better man, a better farmer and a better father with you,” Isaiah said. “I have learned that there is an unending, forgiving, selfless love that no matter how upset, sad or beside myself I can be, my love for you and your love for me will save me every time.”

They had endured more in the past year and a half than they had in the past 10 years, he said: hard times, sad times and the good times.

“I have learned to become a stronger man, stronger than I have ever been before,” Isaiah said. “I want to be your rock. I want to be your stronghold, to understand when you are sad mad or depressed. I want to be your husband forever and never fail you. We are amazing together and we work so well together as a team.”

He thanked God for putting Chelsea in his life when he was at his worst.

“I want to spend the rest of my life dancing like an idiot in the barn with you,” he said. “I want to build our herd together four-legged, two-legged. … I couldn’t be more proud of you. I couldn’t be more proud to call you my wife, the mother of our cows and the backbone of our business. This is our first day of forever. I love you with all that I am and I promise to do right by you always.”

Source: Reading Eagle

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