April 9 2019 08:00 AM

It’s how we are different that make dairy producers and processors such a vital part of our communities.

As the buzzer went off, I untucked my jersey and looked up from the basketball court to the stands. There, in the middle of a group of football players, sat a man much their senior. He wore holey jeans, rubber boots, and was covered in cow manure. That man was my dad.

Our county had over 680,000 people, and yet we were the only ones with a dairy farm. As a child and teen, I sometimes secretly longed to be like everyone else. I wanted my dad to be on time and dressed like the other dads. I wanted to be able to go to school in the morning without having to do chores first. I wanted life to be . . . easy.

Go ahead and laugh because now I know the ridiculousness of that longing. Life isn’t easy for anyone; though dairy farmers do have a unique perspective. Physical labor and the feeling of a job well done encourages us. Failure due to no fault of our own is a hard pill to swallow, but the resilience it builds in us keeps us pushing forward. A rainbow follows many a storm. We are a different breed.

A better perspective
Only now, as an adult, can I say how grateful I am that the man with the dirty boots wasn’t like everyone else (and to be fair, he did spray them off and put on a clean shirt most of the time). My dad is still milking, though I am not on the farm. I’m working to make a difference in dairy in another way — dairy processing. I show up to my son’s baseball game in dirty boots and splattered pants, though for me it’s sour cream. I’m late because the filling equipment malfunctioned, and work isn’t done until the tank’s empty. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Dairy isn’t glamorous, but oh is it beautiful. Tending the earth, caring for animals, and nourishing humanity. Our work is worthy; dairy is worthy; we are worthy. We may not always smell like roses, be on time, or seem to fit in. And that’s okay, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are all in this together, even when the going gets tough. Thanks for being my people. And thanks, Dad, for always showing up.

Erin Massey

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."