As I clicked on the LinkedIn website the other day, the first image on my newsfeed was of two people I knew well: a Florida dairy farmer and his youngest daughter. I’d grown up showing Holsteins with the farmer’s children and had many dairy judging practices at their farm. A smile stretched across my face — it was so nice to see an old friend. Better yet, the article was being reposted by someone I knew from St. Louis who had no connection to the farm at all; rather, she had worked as a supplier to the processing side of the cooperative that was using the photograph in its article. Dairy is a small world, and the unexpected reminders are always comforting and welcome.
Until I moved to St. Louis, I never really knew what it was like to be somewhere without knowing anyone else. Having grown up, gone to college, and started my career all in central Florida, I decided I wanted to expand my horizons, and I accepted a job offer that moved me to Missouri, a state I’d never even visited before I agreed to make the move. Eight years later, I’m still not sure how I was so steadfast in that decision, but regardless, I am grateful that my younger self had the courage to give the Midwest a try.
The most unexpectedly shocking lesson of my adult life has been that good friends are hard to find. Now, to clarify, I do not mean that good people are hard to find. Rather, the time and energy it takes to build meaningful, unwavering, trusting friendships in adulthood is what is no small feat. As a child, your vulnerabilities were out in the open, and getting to know one another came naturally and as easily as playing together at recess (or washing your heifers side by side on the wash rack at the state fair). As an adult, coming from different and unknown backgrounds, there is a lot to learn. Most adults are busy juggling careers, marriages, children, and more. Fitting in time for a new friend is hard to justify as a priority.
That’s where the small world of dairy has made all the difference. Working in the dairy industry, the new faces I meet immediately become familiar friends when I share that I was a dairy kid. There’s a gumption, a shared work ethic and a camaraderie among dairy farmers that is unparalleled. Knowing we share a dairy farming background seems to revoke any uncertainties and make up for any lost time. I often refer to those in dairy as "my people" and this is why. I do not have much time to get to know new friends in my current stage of life, so I’m forever grateful that my upbringing does all the talking for me when I meet someone in dairy. (Of course, I still work on developing good friends outside of our industry, but that process is much slower without dairy farming as the bridge!)
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."