Dec. 11 2020 10:00 AM

The holidays are the perfect time to share our love of dairy foods with consumers.

The holiday season is a time where we, as farmers, should be reminding consumers to choose dairy as a wholesome addition to their dining table - or to leave as a treat for Santa!

I’ve had the same sticker on the back window of my now-rusted-out Pontiac G6 for 10 years. This was my trusty high school and college car, which has now turned into my farm car that takes me between our different farm locations daily. The sticker that has followed me through many life journeys reads “People Behind the Product.” Maybe you’ve heard of this campaign or just the saying we use in the dairy industry tirelessly.

To be honest, I think of it more as the “cows” behind the product first, and then the “people;” however, I sometimes forget to focus on the “product” part at the end. I think that’s something a lot of farmers run into -no matter your commodity of choice. We are so focused on the daily care of our animals and the big job of raising healthy cows, that we tend to lose sight of the purpose behind our 120-hour work weeks.

It’s part of the farmer’s job description to promote our product - whether it’s sharing your story in person or through social media. In my eyes, every day should be celebrated as World Milk Day.

Yes, as farmers, our animals are always number one; but our products are what we are sharing with others and the biggest reason for our way of life. Farmers are always told to promote our products, but that tends to be knocked off our daily to-do list by more urgent tasks like fixing machinery, cleaning out facilities, milking cows, feeding newborn calves, harvesting crops, and feeding our animals.

That’s a reality that needs to shift. Consumers need to hear from farmers, too. This has become exponentially vital as fewer people have ties to agriculture. We, as farmers, are best-equipped to answer questions about how our product is made and how it gets to their family’s table. Everyone in the industry has likely heard versions of this, but it is so true. We need to give our creameries, cooperatives, and promotion groups a helping hand to share our story.

I had the opportunity to work at a leading dairy cooperative for several years before returning to our family’s dairy farm. That experience reminds me how much focus needs to be on the product side of the dairy equation. Farmers know how to care for our animals and run our operations effectively. We’re rock stars at that part. But the promotion of our end-product deserves more of our attention. Otherwise, why are we here?

This time of the year is so important for the dairy industry. People are putting together nice meals for holiday celebrations (even if they are a little smaller this year). Generations are sharing recipes for their favorite sweet treats, often containing tons of butter (can I say “yum” enough?). This is a time when we should be reminding consumers to choose dairy as a wholesome addition to their dining table.

It’s part of the farmer’s job description to promote our product. It shouldn’t be an afterthought - no matter how busy we may be.

So, do your part by sharing your story with others in person, on your next Zoom call, while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, or through social media. Or you can share actual dairy products by delivering butter-filled cookies to a neighbor, dropping off a cheese platter to your cousin’s house, donating gallons of milk to your local food bank, or leaving milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. There are so many ways to root for dairy this season. I’m resolving to fill my friend’s and family’s holidays with a little more dairy goodness. Will you join me?

Cheese trays or trendy charcuterie boards are a great addition as a side to any meal, for appetizers during a get together, or to drop off to a neighbor. I put together this cheese- and dairy-filled charcuterie spread to share with guests at my sister’s baby shower last year.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC -split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and two robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.