Ev Johnson and her brother, Keith Gohl, understand the rewards -- and pitfalls -- of dairy farming. The siblings grew up on a dairy farm in Pierz, where Gohl has continued the family tradition as a third-generation dairy farmer.
Anything can happen when you're farming. A cow may accidentally get shot by a hunter. Or milk prices may be too low to make a decent living that year.
One holiday night as they and their cousins were chatting -- and laughing -- about growing up on a farm, the duo came up with an idea:
Why not create a board game that shows people what dairy farming is really like?
And that's precisely what Johnson and Gohl did.
It took the brother and sister -- and their spouses, Erik Johnson and Lori Gohl -- years to develop "Life on the Farm," a board game like "Life" or "Payday" they believed would become a hit for families and teach people what life is like on a dairy farm. Now this year the professional board game is available nationally at www.kbtoys.com and at Mills Fleet Farm, along with other stores throughout the state and country.
The rules of the game are simple: Start with $10,000 and attempt to develop a successful dairy operation. The first player who owns 60 cows and has all of his or her startup money can retire from the farm and win the game. Sixty cows were how many head of cattle their parents, Elmer and Selma Gohl, had when they were able to retire, said Ev Johnson.
While most board games are competitive in nature, in this board game, like real life, dairy farmers help their neighbors, said Johnson. Players move their game pieces around the board and collect milk checks. The amount of money collected depends on the number of cows you own. The game is full of challenges and rewards.
It all began when Johnson developed a game prototype based on ideas they had. The prototype was made out of tag board and purple magic markers, she said with a laugh. The families played the game over and over, making changes to ensure the game mimicked life on a farm and, most important, that it was fun and the entire family was able to play the game.
The game prototype took first place at an inventor's fair in Brainerd in 1988.
It became a project the entire family believed in. Elmer Gohl mortgaged his cows to help his son and daughter create their farming board game in 1996. The Gohl family mass assembled those original games in their parents' basement, shrink wrapping them together. Selma Gohl was the main assembler, said Johnson.
They decided to take a break from the gaming business for a few years as the Johnsons and Gohls raised their young families. This year they revamped the game, which is now produced in China, and have been marketing the game to larger stores and family-owned smaller shops. They developed a Web site, www.werfun.com, where the games also can be purchased.
Ironically, they are hoping that the "Life on the Farm" game will help save their own third-generation family farm.
A couple of years ago a windstorm damaged the family's 120-year-old barn, which later fell down. Keith and Lori Gohl made the tough decision to sell their 45 milk cows and find outside work until they could afford to build a new barn.
If the game is a successful venture, they hope to use the profits and rebuild the barn, starting up their longtime dairy operation again. It's what the entire family is hoping for, said Johnson.
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